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Romans 2 v 12-29 sees Paul take us further in considering just how impartial God is when it comes to his judgement of sin. We each, whether Jew or gentile, have God’s law. For the Jew it is written before them. For the gentile it is imprinted on their hearts. Each use conscience to determine how to live by God’s standard and so each will be judged by law. But it is one thing to hear the law and another thing to do it. God’s judgement will not be on outward appearances, but on the inner change through faith in Jesus Christ. We are called to live by God’s word and demonstrate our love for him in how we act to those in the church and those outside of it.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find our more at

David McCullagh:

You would be surprised and probably amused at the stories that teachers get told as to why homeworks aren't completed. I wish I had written down the numerous excuses that I received in my short career as a teacher. All I remember was that they were highly amusing and unbelievable, even though the pupil was giving quite literally an Oscar winning performance to try and convince me that it was the truth. I can remember hearing one surprising one. A pupil came to tell me why they hadn't been able to complete their homework and were deeply sorry. Well, first of all, you don't normally get many, I'm deeply sorry I haven't been able to do my homework. But their excuse formed around a discussion that happened the morning before at home, where the mum of the house complained to the dad that there was a noise with the car. The father brushed it off, only for the mother, having picked up the children from school, proceeded to visit a grandparent in the next town, and the car then breaking down on the way home. The pupil went on to tell me of the furious anger of the mother. And the sheepish looking father, when he turned up to rescue them, he tried to say that it wasn't really a big issue, and that the mechanic had looked at it just a few months ago, and it should have been fine. He saw that he wasn't getting anywhere, and the mother's only words reported to me, probably the only ones that could be reported to me, were, I told you so. The story alone, whether true or made up, was worth a homework pass, and nothing more was said about it. And you know, humans know when things go wrong. We know when laws are broken. We know when we excel at shifting blame and excusing ourselves, even over undone homework. Does a teacher tell off a child for laughing in class? Yes, but the child will protest. But he made a face at me. Does someone miss an appointment and try and make excuses that they can either get seen there and then or quickly get another one and the excuse comes, oh, I lost my keys and it delayed me. The common thought is, I did nothing wrong, so you can't condemn me. Well, I wonder what you thought when we read Romans chapter 2, verses 12 to 19. If you could make your way through it. I did warn you, Paul doesn't make it easy for us. He, he talks in a very legalistic language of his time. He was a Pharisee. He was a lawyer. And so that's how he goes about communicating the truths of the gospel. He poses one argument, assumes the response, and then goes on to oppose, to propose another argument. So he's really arguing against himself about what he believes and how he believes people will respond to what he's just said. And Paul knew that people try to evade responsibility. It hasn't changed in over 2, 000 years, in fact it probably hasn't changed as we've seen in Genesis, for all of human history. But Paul knew particularly that people try to evade responsibility for sin. So he devotes most of Romans chapters 2 and 3 to the task of refuting their excuses as why they're okay people, why they're simply good people, and there's nothing to worry about. And the first half of Romans chapter 2, that's verses 1 to 16, develops several themes. People with a moral compass think they are free to condemn others, and we read that in verses 1 to 3. The status of Jews as God's people will not excuse them from his judgment, and we were told that in verses 3 and then in verse 5. You see, they have a knowledge of the law, but that's not sufficient. Knowledge is not enough, verses 12 to 16 told us. In fact, those who know the law, Paul says in verse 1, have no excuse. When they agree with God's judgments, they condemn themselves, since they commit the very sin that they denounce and protest against. And as we move into Romans chapter 2 in the second half, the first half of this second half, verses 12 to 16, argues that God's judgment is just. Because he judges people by the light that they enjoyed while living. Jews have the written law, but even those who don't have the written law have a conscience, so that they are a law to themselves, as it says in verse 14, and we'll think about that in a few moments. And verse 15 goes on to tell us that God wrote the law on the heart of everyone, not just the Jews. And he granted everyone a conscience, not just the Gentiles, that accuses. So, God can truly judge the secrets of men, as verse 16 tells us, because he has left us without excuse. So let's go into the first part of this, and we're looking at God's impartial judgment in verses 12 and 13. And we begin in these verses quite literally where we left off, because if you look, if you have your Bibles there, verse 11 simply states for us that God shows No partiality. The Jews thought that they had one up on everyone. They thought that they were okay. But Paul says you're not. And why does Paul say you're not? Because he was the most zealous and devoid Jew you ever met. And on meeting Jesus on the route to Damascus, he knew that for all his Jewish credentials, and they were good, They were worth nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the glorious riches of Christ. So Paul warns the Jews not to think higher or better of themselves, because God shows no partiality when it comes to his judgment. And that's what this chapter is all about. We have to remember, it's all about God's judgment of sin. And Paul continues in verse 12. So remember, he's just said, God shows no partiality. And he immediately says, 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. And you can understand why he said it this way because the Jews will think, well, the Gentiles who don't have a law, well, they're already condemned. There's no hope for them. But what the Jews are saying in saying that is they're condemning themselves because what were they supposed to be? They were supposed to be the light to the nations. They were supposed to tell the Gentiles about the goodness of God. And under the law, they would have been received in to be part of God's inheritance, because God's inheritance was not about ethnicity. God's inheritance was about people who would worship him in spirit and in truth. That has always been the way of salvation, as Paul confirms this evening. So, since God is impartial, his judgement will be fair for both Jews and Gentiles. And Romans chapter 2, verses 14 to 15 explains how this is fair to Gentiles. And verse 13 describes judgement for Jews. So when Paul says that doers of the law will be justified, he knows that he will soon declare in verse 20 that by works of the law no human being will be justified. He says you can try to be good all you want, but it's never going to save you, because it turns out you'll never be good enough. A believer does the law, is a doer of the law, because good works and deeds and good words proceed from a good heart. The fruit is the evidence of the root. But it's the same, just as wicked deeds proceed from an evil heart. And this is what Jesus talks about in Matthew 7, verses 17 to 18. So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. And we know what Jesus is talking about. He's saying, what is the demonstration of how good your fruit tree is? The fruit tree is, is your spiritual life. If you're loving God and living for him, then you will produce good fruit. If your spiritual life isn't good, if it's diseased, then your fruit will be diseased, and your fruit will be rotten. How are you living? How are you living? Because that communicates what your saviour means to you, and it is noticed. You know what's hurled against Christians. We're all hypocrites, apparently. And maybe sometimes that's a fair point. But it's nothing new. Because that's what Paul goes on to say. That it is in fact the Jews who have made God's name a name not to be trusted among the Gentiles because they have acted in such a way. So they're condemning themselves because they are diseased. In your spiritual life, are you healthy? Are you diseased? How you live your life, how you interact one with each other, as followers of Jesus Christ, as well as the world out there, will communicate how deep your root in Christ goes, because you're fruit. We'll display it. So as Paul talks about doers of the law, and I appreciate every time I say doer, it sounds Scottish like doer. I'm not saying doer of the law, but doers of the law are justified because God declares them righteous, or he justifies them when he sees the works that demonstrate their faith. Notice that. It's not they're justified because of their works, but it's their works that demonstrate And in this case, in Paul's context, it is one thing to be doers of the law and another to try to gain merit through law keeping. For Paul, the law brings awareness of sin to unbelievers and grants Believers opportunities to express their justification by actions born of love for God and for neighbour. You see, we can try and keep all the laws as if that's how we get into heaven, but no one, no one who ever kept the law got into heaven. It's only by justification. By God's mercy that we are received into the kingdom through his son Jesus Christ. And so when Paul commends doers of the law in verse 13, he echoes James who urged in chapter one and verses 22 to 25 be doers of the word and not hearers only deceiving yourselves for if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer. He is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and goes away, and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed. This passage has always grabbed my attention, because it describes something that we each do every day. For both James and Paul, Scripture is a mirror for the soul. We peer into a physical mirror to inspect and amend our physical appearance. And we should gaze into Scripture to inspect and amend our heart. and our behavior. We so easily scrutinize our face, occasionally asking, is that a new wrinkle? Is that another gray hair? Do I need a haircut? But time rushes on and we quickly turn to the day's tasks. And quite literally, we forget our moment peering into the mirror. We should take more time examining our thoughts. Our deeds, in the light of Scripture, so that we can truly become full doers of the Word. Not part doers, but full doers. Paul tells us that Gentiles have enough light to be responsible to appraise themselves. How much more do we have with the Word of God so that we may live and be a hearer and doer of the Word? We have this book freely given to us. We can access multiple commentaries to help us understand what it means, yet for many of us it simply goes on a shelf and comes down the very next week because we don't look into it intently to see what it says. We have God's gift to us. We are to look into it and to understand how it changes us to live better for Christ. But Paul goes on in verses 14 and 15 to talk about certain provisions for the Gentiles because this was the big issue for the Jews. Well, it's okay for us. We can look down our noses at those Dirty Gentiles, and it seems unfair for God to judge Gentiles and other outsiders. Can judgment be fair if Jews have the law and the covenants and the Gentiles don't? How can God condemn people who have no knowledge of Jesus or the Bible? And Paul answers that Israel had the written law, but that Gentiles had the law inscribed on their hearts. In verse uh, 14, he says, for when Gentiles who do not have the law, But look at this next word. By nature, by their nature, do what the law requires. In other words, they have something within them written on their heart. They are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. Now, don't communicate, don't understand this by saying that they are, they are a law onto themselves. No, they're not. They are a law to themselves. In other words, they will be judged by what God has imprinted on their heart. Paul basically says that although Gentiles don't have the written law, they do what it says naturally, because God has equipped every human being with moral capacities. So, unbelieving Gentiles follow large portions of the law. And even today, none of us would deny the existence of moral reprobates. And no unbeliever truly loves God. But many, many unbelievers do honour their parents. They do respect life. They do love their spouses. They do respect property. And they do tell the truth. They can truly be a good person, but good isn't enough. We could say that Gentiles are without the law, but they are not without law. They may be without the law as given to Moses. But they're not free to do whatever they want. They have been given, as it were, a restriction of how far they can go of what is right and what is wrong. Because God has created us that way. Many societies, as we know, have helpful normalities. And even sub Christian faiths have ethical systems that are parallel to scripture. So Gentiles are a law to, or for themselves. Now this does not endorse the secular follow your heart mantra. It means that gentiles at least partially know God's standards. When God created humans he planted a moral compass within them. So Paul challenging the Jews but making it known to gentiles that God is at work and has been at work and we cannot deny who he is because he has he has made us not only in his own image But he has put an imprint on our very hearts that we may understand who he is. So there are provisions for the Gentiles. But the next thing that Paul moves on to in verses 15 and 16 are about acts of obedience that the law prescribes. And so we need to keep moving on and verses 15 and 16, Paul takes the observation of verse 14 a step further. By work of the law, Paul is referring to the acts of obedience that the law prescribes. What the law requires is written on the Gentiles hearts, even though they do not have the law before their eyes. And here conscience is the key. It's why those who have rejected God are without excuse, as Paul wrote in chapter one in verse 20. And in verse 21, he said they knew God, but they defied him anyway. They went against the witness of their own conscience, as verse 15 now also affirms for us. Verse 15 says they show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. Either way, they bear guilt based on the law like innate knowledge of God's righteous standards that is common to all of humanity. And verse 16 serves to sum up the argument for Paul that Jews and Gentiles alike with or without the law are, what he says later in, uh, in verse 25, storing up wrath for the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. The promise of such a day of destruction is not new or it's not unique to Paul. It's very prominent in the Old Testament scriptures that make up the law, so visible in this portion of Romans. One example is what Isaiah writes in chapter 66 and verse 15. For behold, the Lord will come in fire and his chariots like the whirlwind to render his anger in fury and his rebuke. with flames of fire. See Romans chapter 2 and verse 16 relates this judgment specifically to Paul's gospel and to the judgment by Christ Jesus that it includes. Paul has set forth what is a compelling case, but he wants to make sure that Jewish readers or Roman readers with ties to Jews, who may seek to reach out to them with the gospel message, understand their doubly precarious position. So in the next section, what he does is, he, he goes on to argue with those who would count themselves the observant Jew. And this is where we go into the second half of this, and we're simply going to look at it in one big chunk, under sins, excuses, and cures, because that's the argument that we get in these verses. In this last section of the passage, Paul addresses legalists in these verses 17 to 29. You know what a legalist is? Lives by the letter of the law. No grace, no mercy. The law is black and white. What is said is done. And what Paul does is he calls out the pious, who proclaim God's law as they trample it. He calls out the devout, who make outsiders recoil from the church. And he calls out the ritualists, who love the signs, but completely miss the meanings of the signs. And so throughout, legalists suffer from bloated self, false self confidence. And although the word repentance appears just once in verse 4, Romans 2 is an extended plea for the Israelites to repent of their faith in religion. The language and visible manifestations have changed. But the issues are similar today. Humanity loves a good bit of religion, but it rejects Christ. George Whitefield, the famous evangelist, gained the friendship and trust of Selina Countess of Huntingdon, who introduced him to her peers. It was a world that Whitefield was not used to. But he consistently began his preaching of grace by describing original, indwelling, universal sin. And Selina promoted this message to her fellow aristocrats, who objected to its egalitarian implications. Egalitarian means that it shows no preference, it's no impartiality, that it is to all. And there was one response, one protest from the Duchess of Buckingham. And this is in the mid 1700s, and she says, These doctrines are most repulsive and strongly, uh, tinctured with imperitence and disrespect towards their superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and to do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told you have a heart as sinful as common, or as the common wretches that crawl on the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiment so much at variance with high rank and good breeding. They don't write letters anymore like that, do they? Don't think you're better, because you're not, and I'm not. Christ died once and for all so that the sins of many would be bought back and brought to God. In every century, every single century, people object to the idea that they are sinners. They'll quickly turn around and say they're the sinners And so they'll use deflection, much like Lady Buckingham did. Yet, Paul keeps developing the hard but essential truth of these verses in Romans. And this passage is highly structured. In verses 17 and 18, Paul lists four spiritual advantages that the Jews possess and that might cause their boasting. Paul says that they rely on the law, they boast in God, they know his will and approve what is excellent. In other words, they are guilty of saying that they know it all, that there is nothing more for them to learn. They have been raised on this. I'm reminded of it through the annual festivals and pilgrimages. So how can they be wrong, they argue. But of course they are. Because they believe that they have spiritual advantages. And are we guilty of the same? Do we think we know it all? Because we need to be careful that we don't believe this lie, that we have the full knowledge of what scripture teaches. None of us ever will, because God reveals to us what we need, when we need it, so that we can grow in faith and continue to mature, and full maturity won't come until heaven. There is still so much more to learn, even for the eldest person listening this evening. Never think we know it all, because we certainly do not. God continues to reveal his truth to us time and again, and at times, he reveals freshness and newness to us, as we navigate this life, waiting for eternity. In verses 19 to 20, Paul names the four teaching rules that Jews give themselves, perhaps prompting them to pride. Building on the idea that they know it all, they see themselves as guides to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of children. Their reason for being confident in these teaching rules is because they recognize that the law was given to them. But it was given to them to be a blessing to the nations, to draw people in. But what they've done is they've twisted it to keep... Keep people in line, to keep people out, and to assert their authority. The good news of God's salvation was and is for all people without discrimination. In verses 21 to 24, Paul asks whether the Jews heed their own teaching. Ultimately, do they practice what they preach? Paul knows that they do not and states that their failure shames God's name. They are the ones who are the hypocrites. And Paul draws in scripture to clinch his argument and quotes the language of Isaiah 52. In verse 5, Israel was called to be a light to the Gentiles, or to the nations. Their failure to receive the Torah as God intended brought God's own name into disrepute. And later Paul will describe their failure in full detail because in chapter 9 and verse 31 he says, But that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. They thought that they could establish their righteousness by keeping the law, the do's and the don'ts. And Paul is arguing that the righteousness of God is found elsewhere, and that to mistake this fact is actually to invite his wrath. And then finally, in verses 25 to 29, he says that the Jews miss the point of God's signs and explains the value of circumcision. Israel's failures should lead the people to repent. Since everyone feels in similar ways, we all need to repent. And this is his great conclusion for this section. Paul wraps up his challenge to the prideful Jew with whom he has been interacting with since verse 17. The overarching issue goes back to what he said in chapter 1 in verse 18. God's wrath. Who will avoid it? Who is savingly aligned with the righteousness of God? One potential answer is the Jews. They have the law, quite literally the letter of the law, and they preserve the rituals that God had given to them, like circumcision, the, that mark the Jews as God's people. But Paul says it's not so. Jew, in the highest sense, is an inward matter. Chapter 2 and verse 29 says circumcision is of the heart. By the Spirit, not by the letter. Most of all, rather than boasting in his circumcision, and in keeping God's law, which no person can fulfill flawlessly, the true Jew receives God's endorsement, and not merely human acclaim. Because as Jesus says to Jews in his setting in Luke 16 and verse 15, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men, is an abomination in the sight of God. So Paul's inward Jew has dodged the certain bullet of God's wrath for failing to keep God's law. Rather, without technical compliance with the law, that is, by not being circumcised, this person, even a Gentile, can receive God's approval and can avoid his displeasure. It's not ethnicity. That assures survival on the day of judgment, but those who believe in Christ Jesus. And this is the heart of the gospel that we proclaim. And I hope these words of Paul this evening are a challenge to each and every one of us. Because it calls us to live out faith. To not ignore God, not think that you're ever going to be good enough because you're not. No amount, no amount of good works will ever save you. Good works should be the demonstration of what is inside. And so we are called to live out faith. If we profess Christ as our Savior, then we must live His way. And that means that we are not bound to our own opinions, nor to our own judgments on others. We are to live His way as we know it in Scripture. So ask yourself seriously, are there things in your life that you do And you know deep down you should act differently, but you make excuses like a homework excuse. You justify why you are right. If you are in this position, you need to come to Christ and seek his forgiveness. You then need to allow the Holy Spirit to transform you to love Christ more than you love your own dogged determinedness to keep doing things your way. This is what Paul is challenging. We need to live for Christ, not for religion, and not for self, but for the Savior. I wonder this evening, will you live for Him fully? Not partially. Not the bits you like and the bits you don't like. Not the bits that make you uncomfortable and the bits that make you uncomfortable. But would you live fully for Him? Because Paul will later write in chapter 12 and verse 2, Do not, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable, perfect. Will you allow yourself to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ? Not to be conformed by the anger, the rage of this world. But to love purely, impartially, as God does, so that together we may grow in His goodness and His grace. Let's pray. Our Father, for this Your Word, which doesn't come easy to us, and if we read on, it doesn't get any easier. But as we look at Romans chapter 2 this evening. Help us to search our own hearts each and every one because this is not a message for someone else in this building This is a message for each of us individually Let us hear your voice Loudly and clearly so that we may respond well to your truth and your goodness And we ask all this in Jesus name. Amen

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