The Epistle to the Romans
Lesson Number 5
GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
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. 2But
we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who
practice such things. 3And 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? 4Or do you despise the riches of His goodness,
forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you
to repentance? 5But 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, 6who "will
render to each one according to his deeds": 7eternal life to
those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and
immortality; 8but to those who are self_seeking and do not obey the
truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, 9tribulation and
anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the
Greek; 10but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is
good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11For there is no
partiality with God. 12For as many as have sinned without law will
also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by
the law 13(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of
God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14for when Gentiles,
who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not
having the law, are a law to themselves, 15who show the work of the
law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between
themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16in the
day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my
gospel. (Romans 2:1-16NKJV)
In order to firmly fix in our minds the
absolute necessity of a righteousness from God, the Spirit is showing us the
impact of sin upon humanity. He is removing every vestige of hope in the flesh,
confirming it to be utterly corrupt. In Adam there is nothing but death, for "in
Adam all die" (1 Cor 15:22). The argument is devastating. Jesus assured
us of the impotence of the "flesh," or the natural part of us,
coming from Adam, when He said, "That which is born of flesh is
flesh." His point is that this condition requires the new birth: i.e.,
our natural birth itself requires that we be "born again" (John
3:3-6). There is no way that flesh can rise above the one from whom it was born–Adam.
Men are "sinful" by nature as well as by deed. In fact, it is
their nature that compels them to sin, and causes them to stumble.
However, the Spirit does not say that men can
do nothing but sin–although that is technically the truth. Although that
approach has been taken by some theological persuasions, it is not the Divine
manner. Those limiting themselves to such reasoning will find themselves
involved in endless arguments with the unlearned. Men will argue that humanity
has not been thoroughly contaminated by sin, but retains some vestiges of
goodness. Man has in particular, they will argue, retained the power of choice
and reason, and thus can be salvaged. While there is an element of truth to
this, it is lacking in both incentive and power.
The Spirit shows us the affects of sin, and
does not theorize about it. Already, He has declared that, although surrounded
by unquestionable evidence of the "eternal power and Divinity"
of God, men chose to worship and serve the created rather than the Creator
(1:19-25). Delivered to his own lusts, a staggering moral plummet took place,
where men conducted themselves "contrary to nature" in debasing
and reprehensible sins (1:26-27). Others, who did not stoop to that level were
characterized by a wide range of degenerate behavior that sharply contrasted
with the Divine nature (1:28-31). Rather than seeking the God of Whom nature
testified, they found their pleasure in sinful peers, who had also fallen short
of the glory of God (1:32).
Thus, with great effectiveness, we have been
shown both the power and universality of sin. But the thread of reasoning does
not stop here. There remains a segment of humanity that appears to have risen
above all of these reprehensible vices. Through culture, the flesh has been so
polished as to make it appear acceptable. But it is not. Men have only masked
sin. Their outward sanctity is only pretension, and within, like the Pharisees,
they are "full of dead men’s bones" (Matt 23:27).
All men need the righteousness of God. The
idolater, sodomite, and those expressing attitudes and works contrary to the
Divine nature stand together in a common need. Now we will see that the
sanctimonious need a righteousness from God also. No man is excused from sin,
and thus all men need a righteousness from God–the righteousness of God
Himself. All men need this righteousness.
"2:1Therefore 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."
No one has been able to escape the devastating effects of sin. Yet, there are
some who imagine that they have, because they are able to subdue the outward
expressions of it. Such people take it upon themselves to judge others upon the
basis of their external achievements. Thus the cultured Greeks thought nothing
of referring to the less cultured as "Barbarians." The Spirit
is confirming, however, that the Gospel is a message to "both to the
Greeks, and to the Barbarians" (Rom 1:14). They stand together in their
need for a Savior and a righteousness from God. The disciplines of both body and
mind, however admirable they may appear, are no substitute for the righteousness
of God. Although these things have been held in high regard by men, they are not
honored by God. As our Lord said, "for that which is highly esteemed
among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Lk 16:15).
One might remonstrate, pointing to men like
Cornelius, whose prayers and alms came up before God for a "memorial"
(Acts 10:4). He was neither Jew nor born again. Some might object, "How is
it that his works were received by God?" Although his works were, indeed,
honorable, they had no saving efficacy. God did not pronounce Cornelius "righteous"
because of his prayers and alms. Instead, he sent a man to tell him what he "ought
to do"–words where by he and his house "will be saved"
(Acts 10:6; 11:13-14). He too needed a righteousness from God. The conduct and
prayers of Cornelius indicated he had seen his need of the Lord, having no
righteousness of his own. That sort of individual is not described in this text.
Rather, it is the person who assigns value to his own accomplishments, and
speaks derisively of those who have not measured up to his pretentious
standards. You will immediately recognize the presence of this attitude in the
The Jews will be the particular focus of this
chapter, although that focus does not exclude the moralists extant among the
The word "inexcusable" is an
unusually strong one. It leaves no room for negotiation or explanation. It means
without excuse, or indefensible. God will not allow the individual to explain
the reasoning behind the condemned action, because no acceptable rationale can
be offered for it.
There are those who do not approve of
idolatry, sodomy, and the various vices that have already been mentioned. They
would raise their voice in protest of such things, yet still perceive no need
for a righteousness from God. This would include men like Socrates (469-399
B.C.), Plato (428-347 B.C.), Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), and those influenced by
their thinking. They exalted thought, and even probed the spiritual nature of
man. Yet, to a man, they all rejected God. Such men are representative of some
of the individuals now addressed in our text. The indictment will also include
the Jews, who clung to religious form, but lacked the power that comes through
the Gospel alone. In principle, it will also include those who identify
themselves with Christ, yet do not seek a righteousness from God.
THOSE WHO JUDGE
The attention of the Spirit is now turned to
hypocrites, who pass judgment upon others, yet have no regard for their own need
of righteousness. This is not the "righteous judgment" of which
our Lord spoke (John 7:24). This is rather the hypercritical judgment of Matthew
seven. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you
judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured
back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not
consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me
remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye?
Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see
clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (7:1-5).
This is a judgment that results from men"measuring
themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves" (2
Cor 10:12). Their own boastful achievement is the criteria by which others are
judged. But, like the Pharisees, only the outside of their lives is clean. Of
them, Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For
you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but
inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also
outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and
lawlessness" (Matt 23:27-28). In fact, apart from the salvation
effected by the Gospel that is all men can clean–the outside. Only God
can purify the heart. To put it another way, men cannot change their own nature.
As Jeremiah put it, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard
his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jer
The point of the text is not simply that
sitting in judgment upon others is wrong. The point being established is that
all men stand in need of a righteousness from God. Those who refuse God’s
righteousness, placating their own conscience with the imagination that they
have achieved a righteousness of their own, are the subjects of this admonition.
The outward show of goodness is not
sufficient to establish that one is righteous. Sin has contaminated man at his
very core, so that sin dwells in him, and is at home in him. Even the seemingly
best of people have this problem. As Paul confessed, " . . . sin that
dwells in me . . . evil is present with me . . . another law in my members,
warring against the law of my mind . . . " (Rom 7:17,20,21,23).
The presence of the principle of sin within
us should keep us from having a condemning spirit. It is only the "new
creation" that is pure before God, and that "workmanship"
belongs to the Lord alone (Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10).
Although in principle this text applies to
the cultured Greeks, it more fully applies to the Jews. The Gentiles had been
given the testimony of nature. The Jews had been given the fuller testimony of
the Law. Every possible advantage had been given to them, so that, if it was
possible, they could have become righteous through their own works. They are
described as "Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the
covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom
are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over
all, the eternally blessed God. Amen" (Rom 9:4-5). Truly, they excelled
Because of their distinction from all other
nations, they sat in judgment upon them. But their natures remained the same as
the nations they condemned, even though it was often subdued. To such Jesus
says, "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall
not be condemned" (Luke 6:37).
ILLUSTRATED IN DAVID
Although David was a man after God’s own
heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22), he also stood in need of a righteousness from
God. His nature had been polluted by sin even as others. In him, we find an
example of the kind of judgment our text mentions.
When David sinned with Bathsheba, it was a
most grievous sin in the eyes of the Lord. It is written, "But the thing
that David had done displeased the LORD" (2 Sam 11:27). Because David’s
conscience had not yet stricken him, the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to
confront him about the matter. Nathan related an account of two men: one rich,
and one poor. The rich man had large flocks and herds, while the poor man had
only "only little ewe lamb." He had "bought and
nourished up" the little lamb. In fact, it grew up with him and his
children, and ate the man’s food and drank from his cup. A certain traveler
came to the rich man’s house. Instead of taking from his own bountiful flock,
the rich man "took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that
was come to him." It was a pathetic thing to do.
Upon hearing of this gross injustice, David
became incensed. "And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man;
and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing
shall surely die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this
thing, and because he had no pity. And Nathan said to David, Thou art the
man" (2 Sam 12:1-7). Nathan continued, "Thus saith the LORD God
of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the
hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into
thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been
too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his
sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his
wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon"
(v. 7-9). This is one of the most tragic incidents of all Scripture. It shows
the need of a righteousness from God.
That is the kind of judgment we are dealing
with. It is a judgment that sees and judges harshly wrong doing on the part of
others, yet fails to recognize the corruption within self. There is no person
who does not have the seeds of corruption within. Even it is not expressed
frequently, or the appearance of it is kept down, yet it disqualifies one being
called righteous. That condition–the natural state of all men–demands that a
righteousness be received from God. There is other option if one is to be
received by the Living God.
THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
"2But we know that the
judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3And
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?"
It is essential that we understand "the
judgment of God" to be an expression of His nature, or Person. It is
something that cannot be forever suppressed. Eventually, God will confront and
condemn everything and everyone that is contrary to Him. It is inevitable. His
throne is "prepared . . . for judgment" (Psa 9:7), and the
preparation is not in vain. Not only does "mercy and truth" go
before His "face," but, He declares, "justice and
judgment are the habitation of His throne" (Psa 89:14; 97:2).
JUDGMENT THROUGH JESUS
These qualities have not disappeared in
Jesus. Rather, He has come to affirm them forever. As it is written, "Of
the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne
of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with
judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever" (Isa
9:6-7). Eventually, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of
Christ" (2 Cor 5:10), for God "will judge the world in
righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance
unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
Not one small portion of His judgment will be compromised at that time. It will
be thoroughly righteous, and in complete keeping with His Divine and holy
This circumstance is what required the
atoning death of Christ, for sin could not be removed in any other way. Only
those whose sins have been "covered," and to whom the Lord will
"not impute sin," will survive the judgment day. No wonder such
people are called "blessed" (Psa 32:1-2; Rom 4:6-8).
SIN JUDGED IN JESUS
In Christ, the judgment of God against sin
was fulfilled. As it is written, "For what the law could not do, in that
it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful
flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom 8:3). In this
case, "the flesh" was Christ’s flesh, which bore only
"the likeness" of sinful flesh. By imputation, our sins being
placed upon Him, God made Jesus "to be sin for us" (2 Cor
5:21). He then judged sin, as compelled by His own nature. In this outpouring of
His wrath, Jesus was "made a curse," thereby confirming the
indignation of God that is toward all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men Gal
REMEMBER THE PURPOSE
Remember the purpose for this text. It is
to confirm the need of a righteousness from God. Not only is man lacking a
righteousness that stands the test of Divine judgment, He is not capable of
producing such a righteousness.
The wrath of God is against ALL
unrighteousness and ungodliness of men (Rom 1:18). Earlier, those who stopped
short of a quest for God, creating false gods and images of them, have been
shown to be unrighteous and without excuse (1:19-25). Too, those who have
stooped to the sin of sodomy have been proved particularly reprehensible. Their
conduct was the result of being turned over to the base passions of the flesh
(1:26-27). Additionally, those who did not fall into the baser sins (only
because God did not deliver them over to such base lusts), were given over a "reprobate
mind." Their own nature and way of thinking caused them to be "filled"
with all manner of unrighteousness (1:28-32).
Now, the Spirit is showing that those having
a more refined appearance have not managed to extricate themselves from sin. In
the case of Gentile philosophers, the sinful nature remained, corrupting them
within. The Jews, even in covenant with, and blessed by, the true God, were
likewise in bondage to sin. Although they experienced miraculous deliverance,
direction, and provision, their nature remained unchanged. Even when they were
given a Law from heaven, and Prophets to correct them, they remained
fundamentally sinful. They are described as a "disobedient and
gainsaying (contrary) people" (Rom 10:21).
Armed with the Law, and a unique status with
God, they sat in judgment upon others, while doing "the same
things" as those they judged.
JUDGMENT ACCORDING TO TRUTH
Our text reads, "We are SURE that the
judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such
things." KJV Other versions read "we KNOW . . .
" This word ("sure," or "know"),
means perceive, see, or understand. This is the description of a dominating
understanding–one that cannot be avoided. God cannot overlook the sinful
nature! His character will not allow Him to do so. Even when our sins were
placed upon the pure Lamb of God, His judgment broke forth against it. His
judgment is "according to truth."
This expression ("according to
truth") means in strict keeping with the real situation. It also speaks
of conformity to God’s own nature. Those who willingly entertain a preference
for sin will be exposed when God "judges the world." Their
judgment will not be according to their profession. Nor, indeed, will it
be according to a theological position they embraced and propagated. It will be "according
to truth." If, for example, they are Jews, and can boast of having the
Law, the Divine service, the covenants, and all manner of other benefits, they
will still be judged "according to truth." It is what they are
within that will determine their destiny. The due consideration of this reality
will make sin distasteful.
Those who do not possess the
righteousness of God will be judged according to their own righteousness, and it
will not stand up under Divine scrutiny! I am persuaded this is not
generally known in the Christian community–at least not in any
satisfactory measure. The failure of men to speak of the righteousness of God,
and its conferment upon men through Christ, confirms this to be the case. God
will not play games with people, pretending they are something they are not. He
will have no respect of persons, but will judge all men "according
His judgment will be "AGAINST"
those who practice such things as have been described (1:19-32). It makes little
difference whether they are flagrantly practiced outwardly, or entertained in
the privacy of the heart and mind. For it to be any other way would require that
God "deny Himself," and He CANNOT do that (2 Tim 2:13).
The person who "does" sin,
or allows its expression, must not think for one moment that he will "escape
the judgment of God." Such a person is deceived. It makes no difference
what official theology he has embraced, or how convinced he is that he is safe
in his sin. Jesus came to deliver men from wrath, saving them from their sins
(Matt 1:20), and making them free from its power and consequences (John 8:36).
Those who remain under the dominion of sin have not been delivered or freed, and
the judgment of God is against them. This condition cannot be covered up by a
theology that says once they are saved they are always saved, or that they
cannot lose their salvation. All such teachings are an attempt to misrepresent
God and His great salvation.
ONLY ONE HOPE
There is only one hope, and that is to
possess "the righteousness of God!" No other righteousness,
however acceptable it may appear to men, will be recognized by God. Furthermore,
the righteousness of God is not intended to make us analysts of our peers, but
acceptable to God. That is its sole purpose.
ONE FINAL TIME
Lest it escape our attention, permit me to
state the intention of this text once again. The judgment of God is against all
unrighteousness and ungodliness of men. There is no possible way for this to
fail of fulfillment. Those who rely upon their own righteousness, and even judge
others while doing so, will also be subject to this devouring judgment.
Unrighteousness is the necessary consequence
of sin–Adam’s sin. Thus it is written, "through the offence of one
many be dead . . . judgment was by one to condemnation . . . by one man's
offence death reigned by one . . . Therefore as by the offence of one judgment
came upon all men to condemnation . . . by one man's disobedience many were made
sinners" (Rom 5:15-19).
To confirm this is the case, God turned men
over to their own corrupted minds, and a descent into the quagmire of sin
resulted. The only reason some segments of our race, particularly the Jews, did
not descend as far as others was owing to Divine restraint, not human
discipline. Delivered over to the corruption of the human heart, there is no
depth to which humanity will not fall.
Thus, those who judge others worthy of
condemnation, while themselves failing to appropriate the righteousness of God,
will be judged harshly. They too possess a corrupt and defiled heart. The things
for which they condemn others are actually resident in their own hearts, even
though they may succeed in subduing a public outbreak of them.
The point is that they also need the
righteousness of God–the righteousness that is announced by the Gospel of
Christ. It is not acceptable to merely be clean outwardly. Men need real
righteousness. The judgment and consequent wrath of God is against everything
else. God is greatly to be praised for providing a righteousness that will stand
in the day when He judges the world through Christ. Be eager to possess it. Seek
first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
THE GOODNESS OF GOD
"4Or do you despise the
riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the
goodness of God leads you to repentance?" These words may appear
harsh, but they are not. They are more like the passionate words of a gracious
individual trying to convince a perishing person to come out of a condemned and
burning house. Those who do not possess the righteousness of God, and
particularly those who are going about to establish their own (Rom 10:3), must
see the situation correctly. Such might imagine that the absence of Divine
visitation upon them is indication that God approves of them. They thus reason,
"If God is not punishing me, He must receive me and place worth upon my
good works." But this is not at all the case. The Spirit will now show us
the graciousness of God in forbearing the punishment of the self-righteous.
THE ACT OF DESPISING
The word "despise" is an
usually strong one. Coming from katafronei/j, it means to treat with
contempt, look down upon, and think nothing of. More particularly, it means
"to treat with neglect, disregard, despise, disdain, or think little or
nothing of."Thayer This is not an intellectual sin, as though a
person thought upon the goodness of God and replied, "I hate God’s
goodness, and want nothing to do with it." Rather, something that is
despised is NOT thought upon. It is pushed to the back of human thought in
preference for other things. Thus, to despise the goodness of the Lord is to
consider it unworthy of extended thought or energetic pursuit. The consideration
of Divine goodness is rejected in favor of other priorities.
Those who ponder God’s "goodness
and forbearance and longsuffering" will come to the same conclusion as
Jeremiah. "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because
his compassions fail not" (Lam 3:22). With understanding, those who do
not despise these Divine qualities will say with Jacob, "I am not worthy
of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed
unto thy servant" (Gen 32:10).
To despise the Lord’s "goodness and
forbearance and longsuffering" is to fail to come to these conclusions.
It is to neglect to see that only the withholding of Divine wrath has kept
sinners alive. Only the longsuffering of the Lord has stopped them from dropping
into hell. Rather than God recognizing their good works, He has had to restrain
Himself from destroying them because of their deeds. That is the real situation.
One of the treacherous traits of lukewarmness
is that it leads one to despise what is sorely needed for recovery and
acceptance. We are living in such a time. Men–religious men–seem blissfully
unaware of, and disinterested in, the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering
of God. It is a most serious condition.
THE RICHES OF HIS GOODNESS
" . . . the riches of his goodness
and forbearance and longsuffering . . . " The goodness of God is a rich
repository for the soul. When the Lord revealed His glory to Moses, He described
the disclosure in these words: "I will make all my goodness pass before
thee" (Ex 33:19). As "the Lord passed by before Him,"
the Lord Himself "proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and
gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth"
The "goodness" of man does
not "extend" to God (Psa 16:2), but God’s "goodness"
is "laid up for those who fear" Him (Psa 31:19). The Divine
attribute of "goodness" includes kindness and a gracious
attitude. It accents that sinners have not provoked God to act contrary to His
The expression "riches of His
goodness" emphasizes the abundance of kindness and gracious
consideration. However, His goodness must be properly understood. Rather than
constraining God to merely tolerate the insolence and self-righteousness of man,
it is an expression of the intention to convert men to Himself, turning them
away from their own vanity. This will be further developed in the following
The "riches" of God’s "forbearance"
speaks of His leniency toward those deserving His wrath. It is true that God
prefers mercy over sacrifice (Hos 6:6). The Lord forbears pouring His wrath upon
men in order that He might show mercy to them. That is His preference. He is not
looking for a reason to condemn men, but for an opportunity, so to speak, to
The "riches" of His "longsuffering"
stresses the Lord’s "patience, forbearance, longsuffering, and
slowness in avenging wrongs."Thayer One of the very wonderful
attributes of our God is "slow to anger." As it is written, "The
LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He
will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever" (Psa
103:8-9). Again it is written, "The LORD is gracious, and full of
compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy" (Psa 145:8).
In pleading with Israel, Joel appealed to the
longsuffering of God–His slowness to anger, and preference to bless the
people. "So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD
your God, For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great
kindness; And He relents from doing harm"NKJV (Joel 2:13).
This is God’s nature.
In his foolish protestation of God showing
mercy on Nineveh, Jonah said he knew God was longsuffering. "I know that
You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in
lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm" (Jonah 4:2). He was
correct in this observation, but was unaware that the message he delivered to
Nineveh was the means God chose to be gracious.
The longsuffering of God is actually "space
to repent," allowing for man to turn his face toward the Lord, and
engage in a fervent quest for Him (Rev 2:21).
THE TRAGEDY OF NOT KNOWING
" . . . not knowing that the goodness
of God . . . "Already humanity has been charged with not retaining God
in their knowledge (1:28). Now the Spirit reveals the affects of that action. It
brought men to the point where they did NOT know the means
through which they could be brought to repentance.
Wherever it is found, this is an inexcusable
ignorance. God has made Himself known to men. That revelation confirmed that He
is good, forbearing, and longsuffering. When this is not "known,"
a condition is introduced that will, if not corrected, eventually lead to
condemnation. As it is written, "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from
heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do
not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the
Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be
glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because
our testimony among you was believed" (2 Thess 1:7-10).
The Spirit moved Peter to state the reality
and value of God’s longsuffering, relating it to salvation. "The Lord
is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is
longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should
come to repentance"NKJV (2 Pet 3:9). Divine longsuffering is
not a mere idea.
The world says, "What you do not know
cannot hurt you." But nothing could be further from the truth. In the
Kingdom of God, ignorance is lethal, and not knowing is disastrous.
BEING LED TO REPENTANCE
" . . . the goodness of God leadeth
thee to repentance . . . " However, all is not hopeless, praise the
Lord! The "goodness of God," duly considered, will provoke
repentance in those who have been deceived and hardened by sin. It
is true that those who are favored by God, regardless of the extent of that
favor, have despised His goodness if they remain impenitent.
If men will ponder "the goodness of
God," allowing their hearts and minds to dwell upon it, it will lead
them to any required repentance. This is the best way to come to repentance,
much to be preferred over His chastening. This is the aspect of spiritual life
to which the Spirit referred when He said, "For if we would judge
ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of
the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor
11:31-32). Rather than stubbornly continuing in sin, seeking their own fleshly
satisfaction, men ought to ponder how good God has been to them. He has not
dealt with them "according to" their sins (Psa 103:10). By
this, the Spirit means God’s judgments have been less harsh than the sins of
Even in His punishments, God is good,
allowing for men to be sensitive and come to Him. No wonder it is twice stated
in Scripture, "but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave
thee altogether unpunished" (Jer 30:11; 46:28). His judgment never goes
beyond the boundary of God’s character.
All of this is designed to provoke men to
repent of their refusal to retain God in their knowledge. It is intended to turn
them from seeking their own ways to seeking the Lord, to which vocation they
have been appointed (Acts 17:26-27).
We must never permit this truth to escape us:
"the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." It LEADS us
when we ponder it, thinking upon the good things He has done, and of His
tenderness toward us. This will only come., however, when the seriousness of
transgression and the need for a righteousness from God are duly considered.
When these two conditions are not contemplated, the goodness of God will not
Divine influence is required if repentance is
to be realized. Traditionally, men have described repentance as a change of
mind, and, indeed, that is the truth. However, changing a mind that has been
devoted to sin is no small task. It is equivalent to a leopard changing its
spots, or an Ethiopian the color of his skin (Jer 13:23). Notwithstanding that
difficulty, repentance is imperative. As Jesus said, "but unless you
repent you will all likewise perish" (Lk 13:3,5).
Repentance Is A Gift
Jesus has been exalted to "give
repentance" (Acts 5:31). Thus the Savior is said to have been sent from
God "to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your
iniquities" (Acts 3:26). When the Gentiles turned to God, early
believers assessed the remarkable event in these words: "Then God has
also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life" (Acts 11:18). That is
why Jesus said repentance was to be "preached," or declared (Lk
24:47). When servants of God are endeavoring to recover sinners, they are to do
so believing "God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may
know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of
the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim
2:25-26). That provides a great incentive to recover sinners.
Our text has revealed the manner in which the
Lord gives repentance. It is not an overpowering or crushing of the human
spirit, but a gentle leading into a change of mind. It occurs as the sinner is
exposed to the marvelous goodness of God, particularly as declared in the Gospel
of Jesus Christ.
I have taken the time to briefly elaborate on
this because I am persuaded this aspect of repentance is not generally known. I
believe this accounts for the lack of emphasis upon the Gospel of Christ, as
well as the unacceptable level of moral deficiency and weakness within the
professed church. It is a most serious condition for which much grace is needed.
TREASURING UP WRATH
"5aBut in accordance with
your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath
in the day of wrath . . . "
HARDNESS AND IMPENITENCE Here is truth worthy
of extended consideration. Hardness and a lack of repentance ("impenitence")
always go together. Men do not repent because their hearts are calloused and
hard. Also, their hearts become even more stony because they do not repent. A
lack of repentance is never innocent, incidental, or to be treated as though it
were not lethal to the soul. Unless a person repents, hell is sure.
"Impenitence" is more than
simply not repenting. It is REFUSING to repent, obstinately clinging to sin
under the delusion that it brings advantage.
When men struggle with making the right
choice, it is because of hardness of heart. We do well not to adopt an approach
that leaves them thinking they have a lot of time to make up their minds
concerning the Lord. Away with long-term orientation programs designed to
prepare people to become Christians. Where did such a foolish notion originate?
Let there be a return to the urgency of turning to the Lord.
Moses said, "I call heaven and earth
to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death,
blessing and cursing: therefore CHOOSE life, that both thou and thy seed may
live" (Deut 30:19). He did not say "think," but "choose!"
The choice was to be made, and made at that time. "Choose
Joshua challenged the people, "And if
it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve;
whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the
flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my
house, we will serve the LORD" (Josh 24:25). If the people refused to
serve the Lord, Joshua demanded that they decide that very day which god they
were going to serve. He would not let them imagine a state of indecision was
When Elijah confronted four hundred and fifty
prophets of Baal, he first challenged the children of Israel. "How long
will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if
Baal, follow him" (1 Kgs 18:21). He did not see remaining in the state
of indecision as in any way advantageous. He called upon the people to make up
their mind, and do it then!
John the Baptist
When John the Baptist arrived on the scene,
sent by God (John 1:6), he confronted a spiritually sterile people. He did not
provide an orientation course to ease the transition from disinterest to
interest. Instead he cried out, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at
hand!" (Matt 3:2). He did not mean "think about repenting."
His was a summons to repent NOW, else they would miss the blessing.
The Lord Jesus Christ
When Jesus came out of the wilderness, having
been tempted of the devil, He began to preach "Repent: for the kingdom
of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17). There was nothing casual about His
word. He did not provide an academic study to acclimate people to a new way of
thinking. His call was to repent NOW!
MORE ON THE HUMAN CONDITION
As is characteristic of the Gospel, our text
is providing more insight into the condition of sinners. In particular, it is
showing the state of everyone who does not possess the righteousness of God.
Remember, the point being developed is that men need a righteousness from God.
It is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Already the Spirit has shown us that human
nature has been so corrupted that men left to their own devices descend into
unimaginable depths of sin. There is not a soul that will rise higher, seek God,
or become righteous, if delivered over to the desires of their mind.
Secondly, those who have achieved some degree
of external refinement (whether Gentiles by philosophy or Jews by the Law) are
nevertheless under condemnation. They too need a righteousness from God, because
their own righteousness is nothing but filthy rags, to be quickly discarded (Isa
Now the Spirit gives us another reason for
eagerly seeking to obtain "the righteousness of God" that is
announced in the Gospel.
WRATH CAN BE TREASURED UP
"You are treasuring up for yourself
wrath in the day of wrath." The Spirit has already told us that God’s
wrath is against "all unrighteousness and ungodliness of
men." God cannot make peace with sin, and consequently not with
sinners. In due time, the wrath of God will break forth against all who are not
reconciled to Him. Our text refers to that time as "the day of wrath and
revelation of the righteous judgment of God."
There will be differing measures of that
wrath, as seen in this text. Those who have long resisted the Lord will
experience larger measures of that wrath and indignation "which shall
devour the adversaries" (Heb 10:27). In somber tones the Spirit speaks
to those clinging to their own righteousness, and refusing to obtain the
righteousness of God. "You are storing up wrath for
yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of
Just as the truly righteous are laying up for
themselves "treasures in heaven," so the unrighteous are "storing
up wrath for" themselves (Matt 6:19). The Lord does not forget the
labors of the righteous (Heb 6:10) or the hardness of the wicked. The fact that
God is longsuffering does not mean He has forgotten His wrath. Rather than
pouring it out upon the wicked immediately, it is being stored up as well as
Jesus spoke of this same condition when
describing those who did not believe on Him. "He who does not believe is
condemned already . . . he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but
the wrath of God abides on him"NASB (John 3:18,36). For the
righteous, treasures in heaven are increasing. For the wicked, the wrath of God
The very day in which the righteous will be
rewarded is the one in which the wicked will be punished. For the righteous, it
is the "day of redemption" (Eph 4:30). For the unrighteous, it
is "the day of wrath," "the great day of His wrath,"
and "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:16,17).
Accenting this aspect of the Lord’s return
(i.e., that the righteous will be rewarded and the unrighteous punished), the
Spirit says the following. "You who are troubled rest with us when the
Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire
taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the
gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting
destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, WHEN
HE COMES, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all
those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed" (2
Thess 1:7-10). Thus, the very day when Jesus comes to be glorified in His
saints, and admired by all who believe, will be the day when He takes vengeance
on all who know not God and obey not the Gospel.
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, all men are
storing up for that day. Either wrath or blessing is being "stored
up." God is not indifferent to the way people respond to Him, even
though His longsuffering is so interpreted by sinners.
We live in a time when the urgency of
appropriating salvation has been replaced with a sort of gentle tolerance of
unbelievers. It is not often that you hear a clarion call to choose who you will
serve NOW. In fact, there has been a whole religious thrust to reduce the
chaffing effect of the word of God. This has proceeded from the wisdom of men.
The new theological jargon is
"seeker-friendly." It is a purely psychological view, with no
substantiation in Scripture whatsoever. It does not view seeking as declared in
the Word of God, but views someone coming to "church" as a seeker. A
gentle atmosphere is sought that takes care not to intrude upon the supposed
"seeker." There is a consequent reduction in edification and the
nurture of the saints, which is the sole purpose for believers gathering
together (1 Cor 14:26). The appearance, content, and length of the gathering is
tailored for those who are NOT in Christ – a most peculiar strategy.
When once the gravity of the situation
registers upon the soul, all such efforts will be replaced by Gospel-centered,
God-glorifying, saints-edifying efforts. In such an environment, men will be
pressed to make up their minds–to choose who they are going to serve. Sinners
must be reminded of their real status in order that the Gospel may obtain a good
sound to them. As long as they refuse to choose the Lord and obtain His
righteousness, they are storing up wrath for themselves. It is not pleasant to
consider such a thing. But that is what causes it to have a challenging effect
upon the soul. It is the truth–revealed truth.
Lest I wander too far from the intent of the
text, allow me to again remind you of its purpose. We are hearing the Spirit
confirm that we NEED the righteousness of God. God will accept NO righteousness
that we have achieved on our own. He will ONLY receive the righteousness He
gives to men through faith in His Son.
Further, if we tarry to receive that
righteousness, wrath is being stored up for us. The wrath of God is AGAINST all
of the unrighteousness and ungodliness of men–which is whatever has not come
The choice before all men is, righteousness
from God or wrath from God. There are no other alternatives. The Gospel puts God’s
righteousness within our reach. It also provides incentives to seek and
appropriate that righteousness. If it is refused, Divine indignation is stored
up for that person, and will be poured out on judgment day. There is no good
reason for men to continue in sin.
GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT REVEALED
"5b . . . and revelation of
the righteous judgment of God, 6who "will render to each one
according to his deeds": 7eternal life to those who by patient
continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8but
to those who are self_seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey
unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, 9tribulation and anguish, on
every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10but
glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and
also to the Greek."
The "day of wrath" will be
more than a Divine explosion of anger and destruction. That will surely occur,
but it will flow from the righteous character of God. It will not be like a mere
man losing his temper. A burst of wrath from man confirms he has lost control of
himself, but that is not what will happen in the day of God’s wrath. It will
be a time when the "righteous judgment" of God will be made
known directly, and not by testimony, as it is now.
In this world, God gives indications of His "righteous
judgment." It is declared in the Gospel, which announces the judgement
of God against sin. When He made Jesus "to be sin for us," God "condemned
sin in the flesh" of His Son (2 Cor 5:21; Rom 8:3). Divine judgment has
also been revealed in the descent of men into moral degradation, as they were
given over to baser lusts because of their refusal to retain God in their
knowledge (1:25-27). The judgment of God was further revealed as men were
delivered over to a "reprobate mind" to do things that are not
fitting (1:28). In all of these things, God’s judgment was righteous.
But these judgments are only token ones. They
are designed to awaken slumbering sinners. Much of the judgment of God is being
withheld, lest the race of man be consumed in it.
There is an appointed day, however, when the
judgment of God will no longer be restrained, or mingled, as it were, with
mercy. It is then that the fulness of Divine judgment will be made known. The
absolute correctness of this judgment will also be revealed in a most precise
manner. God will be "justified" in all of His sayings,
particularly those relating to His judgment (Rom 3:4). No one will be sent to
hell unjustly. No person will be gathered to be forever with the Lord
unrighteously. There will not be a dissenting voice heard throughout all the
universe. That God is impeccably just and righteous will be evident, and the
mouths of all the ungodly will be stopped.
How frequently the "righteous
judgment" of God is declared in Scripture. "He shall judge the
world in righteousness . . . He loveth righteousness and judgment . . . He shall
judge thy people with righteousness . . . But judgment shall return unto
righteousness . . . righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne
. . . the righteous judgment of God" (Psa 9:8; 33:5; 72:2; 94:15; 97:2;
The heavenly chambers will echo with praise
in that day–extolling the righteous judgment of our God. "Thou art
righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged
thus. . . . true and righteous are thy judgments . . . true and righteous are
his judgments" (Rev 16:5,7; 19:2). The righteousness of God’s
judgments will be perceived. Then, there will be no sympathy for the ungodly,
and no tolerance of their wicked ways. No tears will be shed because of the
damnation of the ungodly.
While we are in the world, our hearts seek
for the reconciliation of the lost, and we weep over the sin of the sinner. God
is longsuffering toward them, and His grace is offered to them. But when the "righteous
judgment" of God is unveiled, all of that will abruptly end. The
"day of salvation" will conclude, and the "door of
hope" will be closed.
ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS
All men will be dealt with in strict
accordance with their deeds, or what they have done. This is a consistent
proclamation throughout Scripture, and is disruptive to stilted theology.
Judgment will be "according to" the works, or deeds, of men. "And
I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And
another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according
to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave
up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were
in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works"
Jesus said, "For the Son of man shall
come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every
man according to his works" (Matt 16:27). Paul said, "For
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may
receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done,
whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor 5:10). Of the wicked it is said, "whose
end shall be according to their works" (2 Cor 11:15). Of the godly it
is declared, "every man shall receive his own reward according to his
own labor" (1 Cor 3:8). Our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Sowing and Reaping
In the "righteous judgment"
of God, the law of sowing and reaping will be brought to fruition. This is a law
that begins in this life, and will be culminated in the day of God’s wrath and
righteous judgment. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever
a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of
the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit
reap life everlasting" (Gal 6:7-8). No person will reap what they
have not sown! Those who have made no investment in their souls, refusing to
be "led by the Spirit," will NOT receive eternal life. Those
who have followed their own will, rejecting the good and perfect will of God,
will not enter into the "everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:11). Conversely, those who have lived by faith
and walked in the Spirit, will be joyfully received into the presence of the
A considerable percentage of professed
Christians appear to live in complete insensitivity to this fact.
"To those who by persistence in doing
good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life."NIV
This text sharply conflicts with much theology, and sadly so. The Holy Spirit
here associates "eternal life" with "doing good."
Many are unable to make such an association. Yet, the Spirit is very precise in
His expression. He does not say they are saved because they do good. Rather, there
is an underlying quest that compels these people to do good–and it is that
quest that sanctifies their doing. Further, it is not merely "doing
good" that will be rewarded, but "persistence in doing
good," or "patient continuance in well doing."KJV
Just what is "doing good?"
To some, it may be seen as simply being neighborly, or the avoidance of doing
obviously wrong things. But this is not the case, for that kind of behavior is
based upon the flesh, and not the Spirit.
Here the Spirit shows us the impact of "a
righteousness from God" upon the individual. Righteousness is not only
imputed to us, it is effective in enabling men to live godly. Thus men so
energetically engage in the pursuit of eternal life that their whole lives are
restructured by that pursuit. "Doing good" refers to being
personally involved in the "good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of
God" (Rom 12:2). At the lower end, it is doing "good unto all
men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal
6:10). At the high end, it is being perfected by God working within us "in
every good work to do His will" (Heb 13:20). In every case, it is
personal involvement in the will of the Lord.
There is an appropriate way in which the
promises of God are to be sought. This is not only an activity of the mind. It
includes the marshaling of all our resources in the quest. "Doing
good" involves the subordination of the flesh, living by faith, and
walking in the Spirit.
Seeking for Glory
"Doing good" is not the
fundamental thing, but a means to the fundamental thing. In the doing, men are
seeking for "glory." The Gospel announces that glory can be
obtained because of the satisfactory work of Jesus. The soul that believes that
Gospel engages in a fervent pursuit of that glory.
The eternal purpose of God includes the
glorification of all who are in the Son. As it is written, "and whom He
justified, them He also glorified" (Rom 8:30). The consummate
experience of the righteous will occur at the appearing of the Lord. "When
Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in
glory" (Col 3:4). If that does not take place, life has been lived
for nothing, and everything has been vanity!
The resurrection of the dead is the occasion
when our bodies will be transformed to be like that of our Lord. Thus it is said
of the body, "It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory"
(1 Cor 15:43). The Spirit also says of this circumstance, "Who shall
change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body,
according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto
Himself" (Phil 3:21).
Seeking for glory assumes a fundamental
discontent with our present situation. We are not discontent with the treasure
we have, but with the vessel in which is presently resides (2 Cor 4:7). It is "the
flesh" that offends us, for it lusts against the Spirit, competing for
our hearts (Gal 5:17). The faithful ever confess, "O wretched man that I
am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus
Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with
the flesh the law of sin" (Rom 7:24-25). Glorification will remove the
circumstance of contention. No longer will we find "another law"
in our members, "warring against" the law of our mind (Rom
Faith moves us to aggressively "seek
for glory." It makes us discontent with the wilderness of this world,
and a body destined to return to the dust. The Word of God knows nothing of a
person in Christ with no interest in "glory." The desire for it
is inherent in the new creation. It must not be subdued or ignored, for to do so
is to forfeit the prize.
Seeking for Honor
The child of God desires recognition from
God. Having been delivered from this "present evil world according to
the will of our God and Father" (Gal 1:4), the believer places no value
on the accolades of the world. But faith is not content to remain unrecognized
or unacknowledged. It seeks for the public recognition of God Almighty. At once
you will recognize this is a foreign thought to many professing Christians.
However, it is the truth.
Jesus once chided His enemies, "How
can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the
honor that comes from the only God?"NKJV (John 5:44). On
another occasion, the Holy Spirit explains some chief rulers who believed on Him
did not, for fear of being put out of the synagogue, confess him. "For
they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God"NKJV
In comforting believers, the Spirit refers to
the time when God will openly honor the saints. "Therefore judge nothing
before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden
things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise
will come from God"NKJV (1 Cor 4:5). There are people
whom "the Lord commends" (2 Cor 10:18). That commendation will
be made public on the day of the Lord.
In another poignant saying, Jesus said,
"If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant
will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor" NKJV(John
12:26). The persuasion of the truth of this promise has a powerful influence
upon the soul. It will compel the believer to think, speak, and live in order to
obtain recognition from God in the day of Christ. It neutralizes the adverse
affects of the world’s rejection, and the failure of even religious peers to
appreciate our labors. Though little known, here is a wonderful aspect of
salvation and hope: diligently continuing in well doing in anticipation of
receiving honor from God.
Seeking for Immortality
The new creation cannot acclimate to death.
Life is everything–eternal life. Yet, "it is appointed unto man once
to die" (Heb 9:27). It is true of every believer, "but though
our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day"
(2 Cor 4:16). The perception of that circumstance produces an intense longing
Immortality is a quality possessed by God
alone. As it is written, "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of
kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality" (1 Tim
6:16). The promise of immortality is inherent in the Gospel, which brings it to
light (2 Tim 1:10).
Immortality will occur for the believer when
death is totally eradicated. As it is written, "For this corruptible
must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So
when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have
put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is
written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Cor 15:53-54). This is a
state in which no aspect of our persons will diminish or wane in any sense. We
will thus be perfect in spirit, soul, and body, conformed to the image of
Christ. What a blessed contemplation! Immortality is something for which faith
seeks. It is not content with death or the deterioration that is associated with
it. Faith can only reside where there is life.
Men seek immortality by faithful continuance
in well doing. Thus, they are not overwhelmed by the hardships of life. Once
again, this is not a common perspective in the modern church.
Eternal Life and Seeking
We must be careful not to miss the intent of
this passage. Humanity has been indicted for NOT seeking after the Lord–for
refusing to retain God in their knowledge. Even though all of nature, and their
conscience as well, shouted out for men to "seek the Lord,"
they stopped short of finding Him. Even though God strategically placed man in
both location and time so that he might "seek the Lord" (Acts
17:26-27), he did not do so.
"Eternal life," while a gift
from God (Rom 6:23), is also the consequence of righteousness. Thus it is
written, "as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through
righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord"NKJV
(Rom 5:21). Without righteousness, there can be no "eternal life."
The required righteousness, however, does not
come from men, but from God. It is not developed by men, but imputed to men.
Further, the Spirit has confirmed the universal need of this righteousness.
Now the Spirit has confirmed that the
righteousness that is given to us upon the basis of faith, engages us in the
pursuit of glory, honor, and immortality. That is imputed righteousness working
within us. Whoever consistently sets about to do good, earnestly seeking for
glory, honor, and immortality, will be granted the fulness of eternal life. This
will be a righteous and true conferment, for all of God’s judgments are
What can be said of a religion that does not
encourage such a quest? What element of goodness can be found in any approach to
God that leaves the individual disinterested in seeking for glory, honor, and
immortality? Is there any one capable of sound thought that can conclude God
will dignify such an approach by granting eternal life? To ponder the question
is to answer it.
INDIGNATION, WRATH, TRIBULATION, AND ANGUISH
"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."NASB If we are tempted to think this is simply a
theological discourse, designed to assure that we maintain a correct doctrinal
statement, we must think again.
The total absence of ambiguity, and the
absolute sobriety of the text assures us of its criticality. This is not small
thought, or something around which elaborate arguments are to be developed.
Without the righteousness of God, men are
shut up, or confined, to their own corrupted resources. Because our text has
introduced us to a list of despicable sins, men might be tempted to think of sin
and rebellion only in terms of gross immorality and obvious infractions of God’s
Law. The Spirit thus provides a grand summation of sin so we may understand that
it excludes men from the Kingdom of God.
The KJV version reads "contentious."
That is, the person seeks his own will so aggressively that he contends with
everyone who does not feed his self-centeredness. The NRSV and NIV read "self-seeking."
This reveals how those without the righteousness of God are primarily interested
in themselves, and not the glory of God. The NASB reads "selfishly
ambitious." This emphasizes that such people are aggressive to fulfill
their own personal interests, which have made no provision for honoring God. In
its essence, sin makes the individual self-centered, even though all men are
made in the image of God. That is confirmed in the very first sin, when Satan
lured Eve into thinking more of herself than of God.
Not Obeying the Truth
Truth, or ultimate reality, is to be obeyed.
It is not to be ignored. To fail to obey the truth is to "reject"
itNIV, obstinately refusing to yield to its demands. Looking at this
matter from a more practical point of view, truth is what God has revealed about
Himself and His purpose. The very fact that truth is to be "obeyed"
shows it conflicts with the natural will of man. Obeying the truth involves
abandoning self-will, and energetically buying the truth, determined not to sell
or forfeit it (Prov 23:23).
Obeying Truth the Pictured in Baptism
A classic example of obeying the truth is
found in our baptism. In that case, the truth, of doctrine, is the death, burial
and resurrection of Christ. Obeying the truth is becoming intimately associated
with all of those facts. We are "crucified with Him" (Rom 6:6;
Gal 2:20), "buried with Him" (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12) and "raised
up" like Him (Rom 6:4; Col 3:1). Much is made of this in Scripture.
Because of being so joined with the truth,
baptism is referred to as obeying with the heart the "form of the
doctrine" (Rom 6:17). Thus we are brought into harmony with the truth.
NOT obeying the truth is failing to conform
to it. It is refusing to subscribe to its demands and thrusting it away.
Bewitched by false teachers, the Galatians regressed into a state where they did
"not obey the truth" (Gal 3:1; 5:7). This is a consequence for
rejecting the righteousness that comes from God.
Those subjected to the truth of God,
regardless of its magnitude, will be held responsible for failing to obey it.
While those refusing to receive the
righteousness of God decline to obey the truth, they DO "obey
unrighteousness." They reject godly impulses in favor of ungodly ones.
They yield to what is NOT right, while rejecting what IS right. In fact, they
reject the truth in order that they may follow evil.NIV
Jesus described this disobedience in vivid
words. "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world,
and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For
every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest
his deeds should be reproved" (John 3:19-20). Second Thessalonians 2:12
refers to this condition as believing "not the truth," but
having "pleasure in unrighteousness."
What will be the result of those who are "self-seeking,"
"do not obey the truth," and "obey
unrighteousness?" The word is sobering. "Indignation and wrath,
tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil." There
are some approaches to preaching and teaching that do not even allow for such
expressions. These are "words . . . which the Holy Spirit teaches,
comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor 2:13). It is not
possible to ignore or minimize them without suffering the consequences.
Candidly, I am persuaded that a significant percentage of professed Christians
do not believe these words.
Indignation is the boiling over of Divine
wrath. It is the venting of the nature of God against those contrary to it. Such
indignation is consuming. As it is written, "fiery indignation which
will devour the adversaries" (Heb 10:27). This is a passionate and
The very word is arresting. This word
emphasizes the focus of God’s anger against His adversaries. It will be
concentrated on "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men"
(Rom 1:18). It is also depicted as coming "upon the children of
disobedience" (Eph 5:6; Col; 3:6) whose conduct has been directed by
There is an aspect to this that should jar
all men from their complacency. While those in Christ have "not been
appointed to wrath" (), Divine wrath does still exist, and believers
are to be mindful of it. God has represented Himself as "willing to show
His wrath, and to make His power known" (Rom 9:22). Not only is "wrath"
an aspect of God’s Person, it cannot be eternally subdued. Eventually, it will
be directed toward all who have refused to pursue the knowledge of Him, and have
rejected His righteousness.
The wicked will be punished with "tribulation,"
troubleNRSV, or anguish.NIV If men cannot be persuaded to
seek the righteousness that comes from God, let them ponder the outcome of being
found without it! Their trouble will begin in this world, and particularly just
prior to the coming of the Lord and the consequent passing of the heavens and
the earth (2 Pet 3:10-12). They will call for rocks and mountains to fall upon
them as they anticipate the "wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:15-16).
That will only be the beginning of their tribulation.
The greatest of all tribulation will occur
when the unrighteous are cast "into the fire that never shall be
quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk
9:44,46,48). Let no person doubt it, "It is a fearful thing to fall into
the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31).
Anguish is personal torment. While
indignation and wrath come from God, tribulation and anguish are the experiences
realized by men through them. There is a hopelessness in "anguish."
"Anguish" means narrowness of place, dire calamity, and extreme
affliction. It is when the soul is pressed as in an olive press, and no relief
All men suffer "tribulation"
"anguish" to some degree. For the believer, they are
experienced only in this world–and even then, only in measure. They not only
recover from these times of grief, but are made the better for them. But for the
unrighteous, this is not so. When God pours His indignation and wrath upon them,
they will never recover, and never realize comfort in any form.
Those supposing obtaining a righteousness
from God is not that important, must consider the alternative. Remember, the
point of this passage is to confirm our need for the righteousness of God. If
men do not avail themselves of it, they will suffer the due penalty for their
JEW FIRST, AND ALSO TO THE GREEK
Because the Jews have been given more, more
is required of them. They were the first to hear both the Law and the Gospel.
The entire ministry of Jesus was spent among them. All of the prophets testified
to them. Thus, the stricter accountability will be required of them. Revelation
is wed to responsibility.
Because the "Greeks," or the
most cultured among the Gentiles, are not innocent, indignation, wrath,
tribulation, and anguish will come upon them also. There is no respect of
persons with God.
Wherever a soul is found that continues doing
evil, these judgments will occur. The only alternative to doing evil, is to
obtain a righteousness from God. It is the only thing that will stand the test
of the day when the righteous judgment of God is revealed against anything and
everything unlike Himself.
GLORY, HONOR, AND PEACE
In order to build the faith and hope of the
saints, the Spirit reaffirms, "but glory, honor, and peace to everyone
who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (v 10).
What a marvelous promise, and how essential it is that we hear it often.
Notice the addition of the word "peace."
What a precious contemplation that is. In this world saints experienced
resistance to working "what is good." The resistance came from
within, from the "flesh" (Gal 5:17). It came form the devil
himself (1 Pet 5:8-9). It also came in the form of persecution, evil speaking,
and the general opposition of the ungodly (Matt 5:11-12). The saints of God will
eventually be delivered from all opposing influence and struggles, Peace will be
given to them that is unequaled. In the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s
prophecy, the Lord will extend "peace like a river" (Isa
Once again, this arrangement is "to
the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." KJV Thus both
punishment and reward will begin with the Jews. God forbid, therefore, that
should imagine they no longer have any recognition in heaven! If they are first
in experiencing the power of the Gospel (1:16), first in punishment (2:8-9), and
first in reward (2:10), how can they have lost all identity with the Lord? We do
well to have "the mind of Christ" on this matter. If God so
regards them, who is man to despise them? Let us acquiesce with the Lord.
NO PARTIALITY WITH GOD
"11For there is no partiality
with God." Here is an aspect of God that is
repeatedly proclaimed. Moses declared, "For the LORD your God is God of
gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no
partiality nor takes a bribe" (Deut 10:17). King Jehosaphat charged the
judges of the land, "Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not
judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore,
let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no
iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes" (2
Chron 19:6-7). Elihu was right when he said to Job, "Yet He is not
partial to princes, Nor does He regard the rich more than the poor; For they are
all the work of His hands" (Job 34:19). Peter said to the household of
Cornelius, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality"
(Acts 10:34). Speaking of some who had exalted themselves due to their expertise
in the Law, Paul said, "But from those who seemed to be something;
whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism
to no man; for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me"
Because God is no respecter of persons, every
man will receive according to his investments. God will not be mocked. As it is
written, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man
sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh
reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap
everlasting life" (Gal 6:7-8). In somber tones, the Spirit says, "But
he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no
partiality" (Col 3:25).
Peter adds a word on this matter also,
confirming that life is to lived in view of this certainty. "And if you
call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work,
conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear" (1
And what does all of this mean? Why is it
emphasized so much? It is because men tend to trust in a profession, or in an
outward identity with God. Thus the Jews relied upon what they were called, and
made their boast in the Law, which was, as a covenant, given exclusively to them
(Rom 2:17). Because that matter is addressed later in this chapter, I will forgo
further comments at this time.
While men tend to distinguish themselves from
others by their creeds, names, and proper positions, these are not the primary
distinctions. To be sure, God will not condone the embrace of a lie, or holding
to doctrines that are not true. However, neither will He condone the person or
church who is meticulous in doctrine, but fails to grow up into Christ in all
things (Eph 4:15). We have the church in Ephesus as an example. "I know
thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them
which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are
not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my
name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat
against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" (Rev 2:2-4).
THE SEPARATION OF THE RACE
According to the flesh, the sons of men were
separated with Israel in mind. Thus it is written, "When the Most High
divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He
set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of
Israel" (Deut 32:8).
Now, that is a noble distinction. Yet, it did
not give the Jews cause to imagine they were not guilty of sin, or did not
require a righteousness from God. Jerusalem was destroyed as well as Babylon!
David was punished as well as Cain. There is no partiality or respect of persons
with God. That is a truth it is to our advantage to grasp more fully.
Suffice it to say, multitudes of professed
believers are conducting their lives as though God DID respect persons. Even
though they lack the righteousness of God, they imagine they are received by God
because of their position, or the church they attend, or some other imagination.
They are not endeavoring to fight the good fight of faith, and thus lay hold on
eternal life (1 Tim 6:12). Yet, they imagine they are saved, or at least that
they stand a good chance of getting into heaven.
The blight of spiritual mediocrity and
indifference are so common, few people consider them to be of any consequence at
all. If such views are acceptable with God, then He a respecter of persons, and
does show partiality.
Unable to receive this, some affirm that God’s
lack of partiality is revealed in loving everyone the same. Thus, they affirm,
God loves the drunkard as much as He does the fervent servant of the Lord. No
such representation is ever given in Scripture. In fact it contradicts what is
said about God’s attitude toward people. For example, God referred to David as
"a man after My own heart" (1 Sam 13:14). He also affirmed "Jacob
have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom 9:13). The Lord referred to
Abraham as "My friend" (Isa 41:8). John was "the
disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 20:2). God told Israel "if ye
will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar
treasure unto me above all people" (Ex 19:5). In Jesus, that kind of
preference is brought to its apex. It is said of those in the Son, "But
you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special
people" (1 Pet 2:9). Do you imagine God loves everyone the same, or
that there are none who are favored before Him?
Being no respecter of persons means God will
not violate His character to either accept or reject men. He will remain
true to Himself, for He "cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim 2:13). If
a non-Jew like Cornelius prays and gives alms out of a good heart, his prayers
and alms will come up before God (Acts 10:4). If a disciplined church like
Ephesus, noted for testing the false prophets, is found lacking love for Jesus,
they will be rebuked and threatened with removal (Rev 2:1-4). There is no
respect of persons with God.
In confirmation of this, His judgment will "begin
at the house of God" (1 Pet 4:17). God will not overlook the lack of
righteousness–not even among those of His own house!
SIN AND THE LAW
"12For as many as have sinned
without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law
will be judged by the law." The Spirit
continues to bring home to our hearts the need for a righteousness from God. He
has already shown that human nature is so corrupt it embraces sin eagerly, and
does not engage in a continual effort to know God and appropriate His
righteousness. All are guilty, none are innocent. All are deserving of judgment
and condemnation, and none have attained unto true righteousness. Rest assured,
God would not provide His righteousness for us if we did not stand in need of
We will now see that the entrance of the Law
did not change the human condition. Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles were
deterred by the Law. Sin continued to ravage the race, thereby confirming its
need for a righteousness from God.
Remember, God is no respecter of persons, and
thus shows no partiality. Whether sin is committed in
the absence of Law, or while one is in possession of it, it still is subject to
the wrath of God.
SINNING WITHOUT THE LAW
Notice, the text does NOT say those sinning "without
law" will be excused because they received no law from God. Neither,
indeed, does it say those who sinned without the law will be judged without the
law. Those are contrivances of men that obscure the reasoning of the text. Those
who have sinned without the benefit of Divine law will "perish,"
or be destroyed without it.
The purpose of this text is not to explain
why people will be consigned to the lake of fire. Rather, it is to confirm their
need of a righteousness from God. It is also designed to show us that apart from
Divine intervention that righteousness will not be appropriated.
The Gentiles sinned "without the
Law," but they did not sin without testimony. They had the witness of
both nature and their conscience, and both are powerful witnesses. They had to
suppress the truth, as meager as it may appear, in order to continue in their
Thus, in the judgment of those who had no
law, they will not be measured by what they did not obtain.
Rather, they will be judged in accordance with what was given to them. The
Spirit has already shown us that the Gentiles failed to listen to the testimony
of nature and their conscience. In so doing, He is removing all excuse for sin
from men. He is confirming that there really is no one who, of themselves, is
righteous. There is a universal need for righteousness among the Gentiles.
Further, they are not innocent in the matter.
I am careful to say that we must not press
this text beyond the point being made by the Spirit. Universal condemnation is
NOT the point, but universal need–and there is a great difference between the
two. As to the eternal status of those who were "without law,"
that is an arena in which we are not licensed to operate.
Peter informs us that "the gospel was
preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men
in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Pet 4:6). He
is doubtless referring to an earlier statement he made regarding Christ
preaching to "spirits." "For Christ also hath once suffered
for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to
death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and
preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once
the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a
preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water" (1
I realize great controversy rages over these
texts. In my judgment, it is far better to take them as they stand,
acknowledging they are most profound, extending beyond the perimeter of human
knowledge. Believing it will help us refrain from making unwarranted judgments
SINNING IN THE LAW
While the Gentiles sinned "without
law," the Jews did so "in the law," or under the
tutelage of the Law. With all of its meticulous instructions and precise
definitions, it could not remove man’s basic tendency to sin. Even with its
many threats, it remained powerless to change the human nature. The spirit does
not say those who did not sin under the Law will be exonerated by the Law. Sin
is again assumed, for the Lord is establishing there is no one who does not need
the righteousness of God.
Just as the Gentiles will be held accountable
for listening to nature and their conscience, so the Jews will be held
accountable for listening to the Law. They will be measured by the very Law in
which they made their boast. That law will not support them. They are basically
sinful, and the Law cannot pronounce such a person righteous.
NOT HEARERS BUT DOERS ARE JUSTIFIED
"13 . . . for not the hearers
of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be
justified . . . " Here is an appeal to the
Law itself, which possessed a righteousness of its own. Elsewhere it is called "the
righteousness of the law" (Rom 2:26; 8:4). Such a righteousness is
purely idealistic, and no person actually possesses it. Those who imagine they
do are only deceived. Paul referred to this kind of righteousness as a "mine
own righteousness , which is of the law" (Phil 3:9). He knew that kind
of righteousness would not hold up before the throne of God. It did not depend
upon God, but upon men. That is why Paul called it "my
There is an advantage to hearing the Law, but
it is not total advantage. As it is written, "What advantage then has
the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly
because to them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom 3:1-2). As our
text will show, the Law gave no lasting advantage simply because it was heard or
received. The advantage came in the DOING of it.
The Law promised life, or justification, to
the doer. "And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments,
which if a man do, he shall even live in them" (Ex 20:11). "Ye
shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he
shall live in them: I am the LORD" (Lev 18:5). Nehemiah affirmed this
also (Neh 9:29). Ezekiel declared this to be the case (Ezek 20:11,13,21). Jesus
announced this principle to a certain lawyer (Lk 10:28). Paul affirms it to the
Romans (10:5) and the Galatians (Gal 3:12).
THE DOERS OF THE LAW
This is not a suggestion that such a person
exists. Rather, it is affirming what the Law promised. It was a sincere promise,
yet one which required more than man could give. The Law had to be done in its
entirety, from the ceremonial to the moral requirements. The summation of the
Law should have made it apparent that it was never intended to give life. "You
shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with
all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your
heart" (Deut 6:5-6).
With an expertise that can only come through
the Spirit, Paul has shown that no member of the human race has qualified for
the justification, or life, offered by the law. After all, the Law "is
not made for a righteous man" (1 Tim 1:9). That is, it was not a moral
yardstick to identify who is really righteous. Instead, it pointed out that no
one was righteous, but that all had gone astray. As it is written, "Now
we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that
every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for
by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:19-20).
A WRITING IN THE HEART
"14 . . . for when Gentiles,
who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not
having the law, are a law to themselves, 15who show the work of the
law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between
themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them."
Verses fourteen and fifteen are the conclusion of a parenthetical phrase that
began in verse 13. The entire parenthesis (vs 13-15) is an elaboration of verse
twelve, "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish
without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the
The point is that God has provided all men
with a law. Formally, it was written on tables of stone, and given as a covenant
to Israel. But it was also given intuitively, blazoned upon the conscience of
those who did not receive it upon tables of stone. Now the Apostle takes that
matter further. He will confirm the Gentiles are not innocent, even though no
covenant of law was made with them. They did receive something.
This is spiritual reasoning, necessary
because of man’s inclination to justify himself and excuse his sin. The flesh
does everything it can to produce a justifiable reason for transgression.
However, the Spirit will not allow excuses to be given. All men have ignored
something in order to sin. With the Gentiles, it was their conscience.
"DOING" BY NATURE
" . . . for when Gentiles, who do not
have the law, by nature do the things in the law." Even though man has
fallen and is the slave of Satan, he still retains a likeness to God. That
likeness is found with the thought processes. There remains in sinners a
tendency toward Divine law. Every nation, whether primitive or cultured, has
sought to enforce some kind of law. They have developed rewards for keeping this
law, and punishment for violating it. While all of the laws do not reflect the
truth of God’s law, yet they reflect the "work of the law,"
which is to define wrong and provide penalties for its violation.
All of this is done apart from any Divine
coercion, and in spite of the devil’s promotion of lawlessness. It is not the
result of education, or social influences that have molded the character of the
Gentile world. "By nature" means the described work has
resulted from something born in us, as distinguished from something developed
through mental disciplines. This natural law is faintly mirrored in the brute
creation. The ant, for example, provides food for itself in the summer, and
gathers in a harvest, "having no guide, overseer, or ruler" (Prov
6:6-8). Bees know how to build cells and store honey. Beavers know how to cut
wood and build dams. All of this is done intuitively, without a written code. It
is a testimony to us.
Man, who is a higher creation than the
creatures of nature, also possesses intuitive powers. They are of a higher
order. Men must learn to build, store, plant, and sow. But when it comes to
right and wrong, good and evil, a sense of it remains, even though eroded by
In this verse, "doing" does
not mean fulfilling all of the details of the Law intuitively. Rather it means
endeavoring to develop and enforce some moral standard. Thus many, if not all,
heathen nations have laws concerning murder, theft, honoring parents, and the
like. They also have ways of enforcing those laws, ensuring they are not
violated to the detriment of their society. Thus they "do instinctively
what the law requires."NRSV They seek to manage human
The Spirit is not speaking of an exact
replica of the law within the human conscience, but only a faint image of it.
Just as the Divine image within man has been marred by sin, so the
instinctiveness of right and wrong are crude and incomplete. Yet, this
circumstance renders men without excuse.
Every Man Enlightened
There is an expression in the Gospel of John
that illumines this passage. It speaks of the Lord Jesus coming into the world.
Of that entrance it is written, "That was the true Light which gives
light to every man coming into the world"NKJV (John 1:9).
The phrase of interest is "which gives light to every man."
This phrase does not change, whether we read the verse as saying the
enlightening One was coming into the world, or everyone that comes into the
world is enlightened.
Viewed from the standpoint of our text, this
accounts for the Gentiles doing by nature the things contained in the law. A
sort of inner illumination was given to them–a remnant of the Divine image
which shows the necessity of avoiding evil and doing good. It is not adequate to
save a person, but it is sufficient to remove all excuses for sin, and confirm
that a righteousness from God is needed.
LAW UNTO THEMSELVES
" . . . these, although not having
the law, are a law to themselves." Having no written law is not the
same as having NO law. By saying the Gentiles were "a law unto
themselves," the Spirit means their intuitive knowledge of right and
wrong was to them what the Law of Moses was to Israel.
The Gentiles were just as responsible for
living up to their inner law, as the Israelites were for living up to the Law of
Moses. Their law was a lesser one, but still needed to be obeyed.
In this passage we learn that men are not as
destitute of spiritual knowledge as Satan would have us believe. That condition
accounts for the complete rejection of human righteousness, regardless of the
level of enlightenment enjoyed. The righteousness of men can never be anything
but partial and inconsistent. Both of these traits are unacceptable to God, and
will not survive the day of judgment.
THE WORK OF THE LAW
" . . . who show the work of the law
written in their hearts." The "work of the law" is the
impression of the need for discriminating between good and evil. The work is
crude, but the likeness of God’s law is perceived. The worst of societies have
known there are things to be suppressed and things to be encouraged.
If you were to take the details of their
concepts, they would not agree with the law. Some societies allow for murder,
adultery, and other forms of immorality. The "work of the law"
is seen in the attempt to structure life, identifying good and evil. There is a
sense that God "is," and that He should be worshiped and
served. Thus men have created idols and given themselves to the service of what
they conceive to be greater than themselves. Technically, they are wrong. Yet
their very actions confirm "the work of the law" within them.
They knew enough to make their sin indefensible.
By saying the work of the law is "written
in their hearts," the text means it is part of their nature–born into
them by Divine appointment. It is an aspect of the Divine image that men bear.
" . . . their conscience also bearing
witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing
them." The conscience, one has said, is equal to a thousand witnesses.
It is ever present with us, and will not let us go. It can condemn us or approve
us. It is like a judge that presides over the lives of men.
The conscience is not a perfect judge, for it
can be distorted and fragmentary in its conviction. However, the smallest
restraining and compelling power is honored by God. God will hold men
accountable for their response to their conscience.
The conscience testifies to the work of the
law written upon the heart. It shouts out to men when they do wrong, and
commends them when they do good. All of this is highly limited, particularly
regarding the Gentiles. Yet, it is sufficient to provoke them to seek the Lord
and a better understanding.
By nature, the Gentiles contend with a
condemning and approving conscience. In their thoughts men without the true
knowledge of God wrestle with a sense of right and wrong. The Divine image
within man is marvelously confirmed by this circumstance. The conscience
produces thoughts that aggressively condemn wrong, or set about to justify what
is conceived to be right.
The worst of men have thought more about good
and evil, and right and wrong, than they are willing to admit. We know this is
the case, because the Holy Spirit argues that men are inexcusable before God
because of thoughts induced by their conscience.
By nature, men call themselves into their own
moral court. In it, their conscience testifies to the character of their work.
The thoughts of men are like lawyers that plead the case to the conscience. Some
thoughts are accusatory, and others argue for the acquittal of the person.
There is no individual who does not contend
with this form of inner examination. Some, because of their love for sin,
eventually sear the conscience, silencing its voice and thus breaking down the
last barrier to deep involvement in sin. But the fact that they had to contend
with their conscience, and think about what they did, confirms the work of the
law was written upon their heart. How precious is a good conscience!
NOT SPEAKING OF THE WILL
This passage is speaking of the KNOWLEDGE of
right and wrong. It is NOT speaking of a will, or basic desire, to do good and
avoid evil. That is an important distinction to see. If one doubts this to be
the case, ponder that, without exception, "all have sinned and come
short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).
Sin has so corrupted men that they WANT to
sin–want to please themselves. This is a dominating desire, and is so strong
all men suppress retaining God in their knowledge. That is why they do not seek
the Lord. That is why the Lord has to "seek" them, else they
will never be found (Lk 19:10).
Men must guard against the tendency to place
too much emphasis upon the will of man. It is not as strong as some have
imagined. Even after we have been "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor
6:17), our wills cannot fully implement what they desire. As it is written, "For
I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is
present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (Rom
7:18). Alas, this is too hard for some to receive. Within the Christian
community there are some who contend this is not true of believers–even though
one of the premier believers confessed it.
If the sanctified will cannot perfectly carry
out its desires, what of the will that remains under the domination of sin? What
power of nature enables the will to prefer good and hate evil? There is no such
power in the natural man. If this were not the case, it would not be necessary
to be born again (John 3:3-6).
This passage has dealt with knowledge, not
will. It has also confirmed the knowledge was suppressed and rejected in
preference for personal gratification. This is true of all men, whether they be
Jew or Greek.
A RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM GOD
Again, the point of these powerful arguments
is that men need a righteousness from God. This is the righteousness that is
revealed in the Gospel. It is a righteousness that can only be appropriated by
It is man’s Unrighteous condition that
compelled him to choose and serve sin. He is fundamentally unrighteous, and
stands in need of another righteousness which is not his own (Phil 3:9).
THE DAY GOD WILL JUDGE
"16 . . . in the day
when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my
gospel." With the parenthetical statement completed, the Spirit now
returns to the thought initiated in verse twelve. The full thought is as
follows, "For as many as have sinned without law will also perish
without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law . .
. in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according
to my gospel" (v. 13,16). That is, the time when those without law and
those with law will be judged is "in the day when God will judge"
all men. This is "the judgment" to which all men have been
appointed (Heb 9:27), and which n o man can avoid.
"The secrets" of reference
include the "thoughts" mentioned in verse fifteen; i.e., "their
thoughts accusing or else excusing them." These were not publicly
uttered, but were kept within. Men struggled with their own sins, even though
they did not always acknowledge such struggles. Saul of Tarsus was not the last
person who found it hard to "kick against the pricks" of a
goading conscience (Acts 9:5; 26:14). By the grace of God, he was brought out of
the condition because he placed a high value on his conscience, always honoring
it in accord with the level of his understanding (Acts 22:3-4; 23:1; 24:16;
26:6). He too, in spite of honoring his conscience, needed a righteousness from
In the end, in the day of judgment, we will
find that no person continuing in sin was truly innocent. We must beware of any
tendency to excuse sin, or imagine we have no need of a righteousness from God.
If men will be judged for not honoring their untrained conscience, what will be
the portion of those who have heard the Gospel of Christ, and have willingly
remained in sin?
This is the judgment that will result in "eternal
life" for those seeking for glory, honor, and immortality. It is also
the judgment where "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish"
will be passed on every soul of man that does evil" (2:7-9). It is
appropriately called "THE day," for the day of judgment is
always viewed as singular (Matt 10:15; 11:22,24; 12:36; Rom 2:5; 2 Pet 2:9; 3:71
John 4:17; Jude 6).
BY JESUS CHRIST
God is going to judge the world by His Son.
That will cast the judgment in the most favorable light, for the Son walked in
this world, facing the devil, relying upon God, and tasting of the human
experience. Therefore it is written, "Because He has appointed a day on
which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained.
He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead"NKJV
(Acts 17:31). It is Jesus who has been "ordained by God to be Judge of
the living and the dead"NKJV (Acts 10:42). The judgment seat
belongs to Him. Therefore, "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"NKJV (2 Cor 5:10).
This is particularly important. The Gospel is
the good news concerning Christ. Inherent in that wonderful message is the
availability of a righteousness from God. That righteousness will carry us
through the judgment, passing all Divine scrutiny. However, the day of judgment
will be a dreadful day for those who have rejected this righteousness from God,
choosing to develop their own imagined righteousness. This is a most serious
consideration, to which all men do well to take heed.
ACCORDING TO MY GOSPEL
Paul often refers to the Gospel as his own
(i.e., Rom 16:25; 2 Tim 2:8). He does this because it had been committed to him
as a stewardship, and he was the custodian of it. He had also entered into it,
being himself joined to the Lord and partaking of its benefits.
Why is it that the judgment of the secrets of
men is associated with the Gospel? This is a totally foreign thought to many
believers. These days, few Christians are hearing about the day of
judgment, the reward of the godly, or the punishment of the ungodly. Where that
condition exists, the Gospel is really not being preached.
The Gospel of Christ is against the backdrop
of the conditions described in our text. It assumes universal guilt and
helplessness. It also assumes the essentiality of a righteousness from God, and
the total unacceptability of a humanly developed righteousness.
The fact of imminent judgment, and the
devouring of God’s adversaries bring an urgency to the Gospel that all
discerning souls realize. It is all "according to" the Gospel.
Those who imagine the Gospel to be simplistic do well to look more closely in
it. They will soon behold marvelous things.
The gravity of the text reviewed should be
apparent to all. Sin has brought a condition upon humanity with wide sweeping
affects. Men have been left "inexcusable." The corrupt human
nature has consistently ignored the testimony of nature, the witness of the
conscience, and the unmistakable voice of the Law. Even when men knew God, they
thrust the knowledge from them. They refused to retain Him in their knowledge.
They also ignored their conscience, finding reasons to continue in their sin.
Even when given the written law of God, men excused their proclivity to sin and
sat in judgment upon those with the same vices as themselves.
Until these things are properly seen, little
value will be placed upon "the righteousness of God" that is
revealed in the Gospel. As long as men retain the deluded view that they are
good, or that the capacity for goodness remains in them, they will see no need
for a righteousness from God.
In salvation, God has not only provided for
the needs of men, but for the expression of His own graciousness. Although He
owes nothing to any person, He has graciously provided His own righteousness to
them, undeserving though they be. His Son assumed all of their liabilities,
thereby allowing God to remain righteous in justifying fallen man. That
justification includes the complete exoneration from guilt. It also includes the
conferment of a righteousness that will stand the test of Divine judgment. Even
the revelation of the "secrets of men" will diminish that
righteousness. It ought to be clear that this righteousness is indispensable.
I have every confidence that a firm
persuasion of a need for righteousness, together with the glorious sound of the
Gospel, will produce the right response. However, where the conviction of a need
for "the righteousness of God" is lacking, and where the Gospel
is not being proclaimed, men are shut up to condemnation. It is a situation from
which they cannot extricate themselves. They must both be delivered, and receive
righteousness and eternal life as gifts from God. Without these, there simply is
When we begin to assign values, let the preeminent ones go to
God, Christ, the Gospel, and this "great salvation." Let us
place such a high premium upon the righteousness of God that we will not allow
an evil heart of unbelief to rob us of its presence and blessing.