God’s Righteous Judgment Part 3 – Romans 2:11-16
Pastor Mark Hardy January 22, 2012
A Chicago bank once asked for a letter of recommendation from a Boston investment firm on a young man who was being considered for employment. The firm’s recommendation was short and sweet, but was a good example of showing partiality or favoritism to someone. It said this: His father was a Cabot; his mother was a Lowell. Further back was a happy blend of Saltonstalls, Peabodys, and other of Boston’s first families.
Several days later, the Chicago bank sent a note back to the Boston firm saying that the information supplied was totally inadequate. It read: “We are not contemplating using the young man for breeding purposes. Just for work. What are his skills?” It is fallen human tendency to value and elevate some people over others for various reasons, but God never does that as we will see this morning. Turn with me in your Bible to Romans 2.
As we continue on in our study of Romans 2:1-16, we are looking at six principles of God’s righteous judgment on all non-Christians who consider themselves to be good “moral” people. Thus far we have seen the first four principles:
1) God judges according to the knowledge people have (v. 1)
2) God judges according to the facts He knows (vv. 2-3)
3) God judges according to people’s accumulation of guilt (vv. 4-5)
4) God judges according to the deeds people do (vv. 6-10)
This morning we are going to look at the remaining two principles in vv. 11-16.
The fifth principle of God’s righteous judgment is this:
V. God Judges according to His Impartiality toward Everyone
A. Look at v. 11: For there is no partiality with God.
1. This principle of impartiality not only concludes vv. 6-10, as the reason why everyone will be judged according to their works, but it also introduces vv. 12-16. The word “For” (gar) here in v. 11, as well as vv. 12, 13, and 14 shows that Paul’s argument keeps moving and building.
2. Now the word “partiality” (prosopolempsia) refers to making a biased judgment and distinction about a person solely on the basis of superficial, external considerations. Such things as: who the person is related to, physical appearance, education, abilities, position, wealth, accomplishments, and possessions.
3. But God never does that! He is no respecter of persons and shows no favoritism, for He is impartial toward everyone!
4. The undiluted pure justice of the impartial righteous Judge is seen throughout the Word of God. For example: Deuteronomy 10:17 says, “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor takes a bribe.”
5. And 1 Peter 1:17 states, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” (2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19; Matt. 5:45; Acts 10:34-35; Gal. 2:6-8; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17).
6. Therefore, since God is perfectly righteous and is perfectly knowledgeable of everything about everyone, He is always perfectly impartial in His judgment. And He expects us as His children to be the same (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 16:19; Ps. 82:2; Prov. 18:5; Jam. 2:1, 9).
7. God’s impartially is symbolized in the statue of Lady Justice. This blindfolded woman has scales in one hand that symbolize justice is served impartially to everyone equally, and in her other hand a sword that symbolizes the power that is held by those making the decision.
8. Although God is always perfectly impartial in all of His judgments, our justice system today is very often far from that! But at least we as His people can be impartial in our judgments of others.
9. Paul then goes on to explain and apply this principle of God’s impartiality in vv. 12-15 to two groups of people in relation to the Mosaic Law.
B. Look at v. 12: For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.
1. First, God deals impartially with “…all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law.” This refers to the Gentiles who did not have the Mosaic Law, the body of commandments given by God through Moses to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai (Eph. 2:12; 1 Cor. 9:21).
2. Paul is showing that the Gentiles cannot claim to be exempt from God’s judgment just because they were ignorant of the written Mosaic Law, not having it. The central issue is that they “sinned” against the limited knowledge of God that they already have, whether it be their knowledge of Him in creation that we saw in 1:18-20, or their innate sense of right and wrong and their conscience that will see in 2:14-15.
3. William Barclay rightly states, “And here is the answer to those who ask what is to happen to the people who lived in the world before Jesus came into the world and who had no opportunity to hear the Christian message. The Christian answer is that a man will be judged by his fidelity to the highest that it was possible for him to know. (pg. 45)
4. Therefore, because of their sin Paul says they “will also perish without the Law.” The word “perish” (apoloutai) here refers to that which is ruined and is no longer usable for its intended purpose.
5. It doesn’t mean annihilation where at death people simply cease to exist, it refers to eternal destruction where unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15).
6. Jesus used this same term in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (vv. 5, 8-9; Ps. 9:5; Deut. 4:26; 8:19-20; Matt. 13:42; 25:41-46; Mk. 9:47-48; Jn. 3:16; 1 Cor. 1:19; 8:11; 10:9-10; 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10; Rev. 20:10)
7. Second, Paul says at the end of v. 12, “…and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. This refers to the Jews, whom God also deals impartially with.
8. To be “under the Law” means to live in the domain of the Law. This was the Jews reality because as God’s chosen people they possessed the spiritual light of God’s special revelation in the written Mosaic Law (Ex. 24:12).
9. However, they wrongly believed that the mere possession of the Law guaranteed their salvation and exempted them from judgment. But like the Gentiles, their central issue was that they “sinned,” though their sin was that they didn’t obey what they knew God required in His law.
10. Therefore, Paul says they “will be judged by the Law.” In other words, they will be judged by the standard they have known.
11. The word “judged” (krithesontai) here also refers to eternal punishment. However, because the Jews have been entrusted with greater position and privilege they were far more accountable and so their punishment will be much more severe (Matt. 11:20-23; Lk. 12:47-48; 1 Cor. 9:20).
12. This is a warning to people today who have knowledge of both God’s Old Testament law and New Testament gospel. Though all unbelievers will be there, the hottest part of eternal hell will be reserved for those who have known God’s truth but rejected Jesus Christ (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31).
13. Therefore, since God is impartial toward everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, people will be condemned because of their sin in accordance with the spiritual light or knowledge they have, not what they don’t have.
C. Paul then shows God’s impartiality in His one standard of justification for everyone. Look at v. 13: For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
1. Speaking of the moralists, specifically the Jews who heard God’s Word read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Lk. 4:16; Acts 15:21), merely being “hearers of the Law” does not make one “just” (dikaioi), meaning right or righteous before God. Paul says that only “the doers of the Law will be justified.”
2. Now remember from last time that Paul is talking in Romans 2:1-16 about the principles of God’s judgment not the means of our justification or salvation. He is not saying that people are actually “justified” ” (dikaiothesontai) or declared righteous, acquitted, and innocent before God by keeping the Law.
3. What he is doing here is stating that if a moral person thinks he can merit salvation by his own good works then the requirement is perfect obedience to the Mosaic Law not merely possessing and hearing it. And yet, that’s impossible!
4. This is because Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
5. Being a “perfect doer” of the Law sums up what the law itself demanded. James 2:10 states, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
6. Though this standard is impossible for everyone to meet because all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), God could not lower it without compromising His own perfection. The perfectly righteous God could not set an imperfect standard of righteousness.
7. This is why the marvelous truth of the gospel is that Jesus Christ has met this standard on our behalf. We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
8. Paul clearly teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not by doing the works of the Law. He will say in Romans 3:20, “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” (Verse 28) “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” (Rom. 3:24; 4:2; Gal. 2:16; 3:11-12, 24)
9. And yet, as we saw last time whereas true salvation will assuredly produce good works by the Holy Spirit in and through a believer’s life (Eph. 2:8-10). Therefore, justification is not by faith and works; it is only by a faith that works (Jam. 2:26).
10. This is why all believers are to heed the warning in James 1:22, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
11. It is not enough to merely hear and know the truth of God’s Word, whether it be for salvation or sanctification. We must obey what it says, so that the Holy Spirit can produce righteous fruit in our lives.
12. For unless there is obedience, we not only delude or deceive ourselves as to our true spiritual condition, but also the greater our knowledge of God’s Word the more severe our judgment in the loss of eternal rewards.
13. Paul then proceeds to show that even the Gentiles, who don’t have the written Mosaic Law, know enough about what is right and wrong to be judged by the same standard.
D. Paul gives three reasons why sinful unbelieving Gentiles are condemned in vv. 14-15. The first reason is because of their conduct. Look at vv. 14-15: For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts… (Stop there)
1. Although unbelieving Gentiles “do not have” the written Mosaic Law, they are not entirely “without law,” for they have some knowledge of God’s moral demands. They have law in a generic sense.
2. For whenever they “do instinctively the things of the Law” they reflect an innate moral sense of right and wrong. Man is made in the image of God and although he is by nature “totally depraved,” in that, depravity has stained every part of his being: mind, will, and emotions, that image was not completely destroyed in the Fall.
3. Because this sense of morality is part of being an image bearer, you can find evidence in every society and culture where such things as lying, stealing, adultery, murder and other behaviors are considered wrong.
4. Many unbelievers honor and respect their parents, recognize the sanctity of life, are faithful to their spouses, care for their children, practice honesty, value love above selfishness, help the poor, speak truth, abide by a system of justice, and so on, all of which God’s Word commends. (Gen. 20:4-5; Dan. 6:25-28; Ez. 1:1-4; 5:13-17; 6:1-12; 7:11-26, 27-28; 2 Chron. 24:2, 20-22; Lk. 6:33; Acts 19:35-41; 23:10, 17-35; 27:43; 28:2, 10)
5. Therefore, when the conduct of unbelieving Gentiles corresponds at any point with the Mosaic Law, Paul says that they “are a law to themselves.” Douglas Moo says, “By this, Paul does not mean that these people need nothing to guide them but that they (by their conduct) attest (or prove) knowledge of divine moral standards.”
6. In other words, though they don’t have the written Mosaic Law they still have law. And on those occasions whenever they perform good conduct Paul says they “…show (i.e. demonstrate) the work (i.e. “things” or moral norms) of the Law written in their hearts,” the mission control center of their lives.
7. This should not be confused with Jeremiah’s promise that the law will be written on the heart in a saving work of God (Jer. 31:31-34; 2 Cor. 2; 3:2-3, 6).
8. Therefore, these unbelieving Gentiles show by their good conduct that they in fact know what is right and wrong and have some knowledge of God’s law “written in their hearts” by their Creator. Although this does not mean that the whole Mosaic Law or even all the Ten Commandments are written in their hearts; they merely have some knowledge.
9. Leon Morris accurately states, “The Gentile does not have the law revealed in the Old Testament, but his conduct shows that he knows right from wrong. He knows enough of “law” to be guilty when he sins, even though he may not know the God who prescribes right conduct, or even that there is a God who prescribes it.” (pg. 125)
10. So because unbelieving Gentiles have some knowledge of law, their conduct condemns them when they sin and do what is wrong.
E. The second reason why sinful unbelieving Gentiles are condemned is because of their conscience. Look again at v. 15, “…their conscience bearing witness…
1. First of all, what is the conscience? The “conscience” (suneideseos) is the God-given mental capacity of moral self-critique.
2. William Hendriksen defines conscience as “…a knowledge along with (or shared with) the person. It is the individual’s inner sense of right and wrong; his…moral consciousness viewed in the act of pronouncing judgment upon himself, that is, upon his thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds, whether past, present or contemplated.” (pg. 97)
3. Now your conscience does not create your moral standard of right and wrong, it merely functions to monitor your conformity to the moral standard you already have. It is a resident police officer, in that, it does not make the rules but nabs us when we have done wrong in the light of the existing rules.
4. Therefore, your conscience is the servant of your moral standard and impels you to act consistent with what you believe. Since your conscience convicts you to maintain your moral standard as you live your life, if that standard is wrong then your conscience will not help you.
5. For example, before Paul’s conversion he actually believed that he was serving God by killing Christians. His standard was incorrect!
6. This is why the saying, “Let your conscience by your guide” is not an absolute trustworthy indicator of what is right. The Bible says that the conscience can be “good” (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; Heb. 13:18; 1 Pet. 3:16, 21) and “blameless” (Acts 24:16) and “clear” (1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3), or it can be “weak” (1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12), “defiled” (Tit.1:15), “evil” (Heb. 10:22), and even “seared” so that it stops giving warning signals about wrongdoing (1 Tim. 4:2).
7. Therefore, as believers we must be faithful to the leading of our own consciences although it is not perfect, and we must respect the consciences of others. This means that if your conscience forbids you to do something, you should not do it. (Acts 23:1; 24:16; Rom. 9:1; 13:5; 1 Cor. 8:7, 12; 10:25, 29; 2 Cor. 5:11)
8. Now only the Word of God is our final authority for what is truly right and wrong, not the conscience. Therefore, as a person’s biblical knowledge increases to the level of new convictions the conscience is educated and comes more into alignment with biblical teaching.
9. Now Paul says here that the conscience of the Gentiles is “bearing witness” (symmarturouses). This means that although they don’t have the Mosaic Law they do have an innate standard of right and wrong and their conscience testifies to them when they violate that standard with a sense of guilt.
F. The third reason why sinful unbelieving Gentiles are condemned is because of their contemplations. Look at the end of v. 15, “…and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”
1. This is a function of the conscience. Here we see that their “thoughts” (logismon)—reasonings or contemplations are engaged in a constant dialogue and debate among themselves acting as witnesses, either “accusing” (kategopounton) or possibly even “defending” (apologoumenon) them as to the rightness or wrongness of their conduct.
2. Most of the time their conflicting thoughts accuse them for doing wrong and sometimes they defend them for doing good, but Paul’s point is that these conflicting thoughts reveal that they have not met God’s standard of perfection.
3. The sixth principle of God’s righteous judgment is this:
VI. God Judges according to His Knowledge of Motives
A. Look at v. 16: On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
1. Once again Paul is talking about “the day” of the righteous judgment of God, which is the final judgment (vv. 5, 8-10; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Tim. 4:8).
2. It is on that day Paul says, “…when…God will judge the secrets of men.” God’s righteous judgment not only takes into account outward deeds, but also the inward “secrets” (krupta) or hidden motives of men.
3. The omniscient, all-knowing God sees it all! His eyes are like a spiritual MRI that clearly sees every heart motive and thought behind all of our actions.
4. The LORD said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
5. David said in Psalm 139:1, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. (Verse 4) “Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all.”
6. And Hebrews 4:13 states, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (1 Chron. 28:9; Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 6:4, 6, 18; Lk. 12:3; 16: 15; 1 Cor. 4:5)
7. Whereas this is a source of great comfort for us as believers, it can also be a dreadful thought when we are living in sin.
8. Now although Paul says that “God will judge,” His judgment will be “through Christ Jesus.” Jesus said in John 5:22, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” (Verse 27) “And He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” (Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 17:31; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1)
9. And notice that Paul says all of this is, “…according to my gospel.” He isn’t saying that the gospel belongs to him or is peculiar to him, for he already said in 1:1 that this is the “gospel of God,” in that it originated from Him.
10. There is only one gospel of Jesus Christ and it is common to every true Christian. What Paul means here is that this gospel of grace also includes the judgment of God, for unless judgment is a reality there is nothing from which sinners need to be saved.
11. God’s judgment is not an enjoyable subject, but the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ shines most brightly and powerfully only when it is seen against the black backdrop of the bad news of God’s terrifying wrath against sinful mankind.
12. Paul calls it “my gospel” because he not only experienced its life-saving and life-transforming power in his own life, but he also was called and set apart as an apostle to wholeheartedly proclaim it to the world (1:1).
13. Have you experienced the reality of the gospel’s power in your own life? If you have, you too can call it “my gospel.”
In closing, there is coming a day when the Lord Jesus Christ, the totally Sovereign and righteous Judge of the universe, will judge everyone according to these six principles. On that day it will not matter how good or moral you may have been in this life, for God’s standard is perfect righteousness not just morality.
The only escape of final judgment is to be clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ by putting your trust in sinless Son of God whose atoning death on the cross paid in full the penalty of your sin. Jesus said in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
The day of final judgment is coming, and unbelieving men and women everywhere need to “settle out of court” while they can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord?