1 Romans God s judgment is part of the gospel too In Romans 1, 2 and 3, Paul makes his strongest statements about God s judgment. He tells us there really is a judgment day coming, with a typical law court setting with God as the presiding judge. Paul also tells us who is being judged and why, and even what their sentences are. In Romans 1:18, for instance, Paul launches into The wrath of God being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. And because people knew God (but) they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, verse 21, their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Therefore, verse 24, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, to shameful lusts (26), to a depraved mind (28), and to receiving in themselves the due penalty for their perversion (27). God s judgment on such people is clear and severe: Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, verse 28, and they not only continue to do these things, but also approve of those who practice them - they deserve death, verse 32. They can stew in their own juice and die in it. So that s one group God pronounces judgment on. We know who they are and why they re judged, and also the sentence they receive. The second group who come under judgment in Romans are the Jews (and likely Jewish Christians too), who hear God s scathing judgment on the evil Gentile pagans in Romans 1, and think they have the right to judge and condemn them too. Not so, says Paul, in Romans 2:1, You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things yourself. So, verse 3, when you, a mere man, pass judgment on others and yet do the same things, do you think YOU will escape God s judgment? God s judgment, then, is also on anyone who believes he s so perfect he has the right to judge others.
2 And the reason God is so severe in his judgment of those who condemn others is because you show contempt for the riches of God s kindness, tolerance and patience, and ignore the fact that God s kindness helps bad people repent. By condemning people, Paul says, you re turning them off God, the exact opposite of what Jews and Christians are supposed to be doing. So, Romans 2:5, because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. So that s the second group who come under fire on God s judgment day. It s those among Jews and Christians who give a very bad impression of God by their condemning attitude, who need to take note of verse 6, because the time is coming when God will give to each person according to what he has done. And when that day comes, Paul makes it clear in verses 7-8 as to what God judges us on: To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self- seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There s a clear choice here, and it applies equally to both Jew and Gentile (9); God does not play favourites (11). The Jews, however, thought God was playing favourites. Weren t they God s treasured possession (Exodus 19:5)? Hadn t they, totally unlike the Gentiles, retained the knowledge of God and taken God s righteous decrees seriously? So why should the Jews be lumped in with all those stubborn, godless heathen of Romans 1? Hadn t God given Israel the Law to separate them from all those awful Gentiles? And hadn t the Jews already been redeemed and rescued from paganism in the Exodus from Egypt, so why did they need to be judged at all? Surely they were above being judged, weren t they? But none of us is above judgment, Romans 2:12, for All who sin apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law. Anyone who sins is open to judgment, and God s judgment is simple and to the point for sinners, verse 9: There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil. And it makes no difference if that evil, or sin, is defined by God s Law, by one s conscience, or by common sense morality; if we know something s wrong and we do it there will be consequences when God s righteous judgment is revealed (5).
3 That also applies - Romans 2:10 - to everyone who does good, as well, like the Jews, for instance, who obey the Law (13), and the Gentiles who show that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness (15). God will judge them on what they ve done too, and in the future they will be declared righteous (13) on the day when God will judge men s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares, verse 16. So judgment and a future judgment day are very much part of the gospel. And in that judgment God takes into account both action and motive. A person can do all sorts of good deeds, obey God s law (like Paul did), and have a perfectly good conscience, but God is also concerned about our motives. His focus is what s written on our hearts (15). Do we do what we do to look good to people, or to gladden the heart of God (29)? A Jew, then, can brag all he likes about the Law (23) and his special relationship with God (17), and how all that knowledge and truth from knowing God s Law and God s will (18-20) have made him a guide for the blind, a light for those in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of infants - which was true, the Law would have made the Jews all those things, making them a huge blessing to others - BUT by breaking the Law, verses 23-24, God s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. If the Jews had obeyed God s Law from the heart to be a blessing to others, which is what God had given them the Law for, imagine how the Gentiles would have responded to God, but instead many uncircumcised Gentiles were doing a better job of obeying the Law than the Jews were (26-27). But what does all this have to do with us Christians? Surely, this is all aimed at the Jews, isn t it? No it isn t, Paul writes in verse 9, it s for every human being and for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile, verse 10. So all this talk of God s judgment being based on whether the Law is written on our hearts, or not, and what kind of impression people are getting of God because of our obedience (or disobedience) to the Law, applies to all of us. We re all in the same boat. And the day is coming when God s righteous judgment will be revealed on everyone, based on what each person has done. It all sounds rather scary, because what if what we ve done isn t good enough? Do we lose out on salvation on judgment day? Is this what Paul is saying?
4 Paul gives us a clue in Romans 2:9 and 10, when he says judgment is first for the Jew. How, then, does God judge the Jews? That s our clue. And the first thing we learn about God s judgment of the Jews is Romans 3:2, because the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. God gave them the oracles - referring back to the covenant God began with Abraham - the purpose of which was to bless all nations (Genesis 22:18). And the means by which Israel (and the Jews) would do their part in being a blessing to the nations was the keeping of the Law (Exodus 19:5-6, and Deuteronomy 29:12-13). Their part in the covenant was clear and simple: Keep God s laws SO THAT, Deuteronomy 4:6, other nations would hear about all these decrees and say, Surely this nation is a wise and understanding people. Other nations would look at Israel and say, Wow, what a people; what a God. That was the plan, and these were the good works Israel was called upon to do in fulfilling their part in it. By obeying God s Law, God would mightily bless Israel for it, the nations would see how wise, powerful and loving Israel s God was, and God s name would be admired and praised among the Gentiles. Did it work? No, it didn t - resulting in Daniel s heartrending prayer in Daniel 9:7 admitting Israel s unfaithfulness to God because of their disobedience to God s laws (10), resulting in the curses promised in Deuteronomy 28, that had brought scorn on the city and people that bore God s name (Daniel 9:16, 19). Daniel openly admits they deserve God s anger and wrath (16). They d been entrusted with their part in continuing God s promises to Abraham by obeying God s Law and they had failed miserably. Paul then asks the question - back in Romans 3:3 - Did Israel s unfaithfulness nullify God s faithfulness? The answer, amazingly, is Not at all (4); God would remain faithful to his promise to Abraham to bless all nations through Abraham s descendants. But HOW could God continue that promise through Israel when they d broken God s Law and stood before him guilty as charged? We now learn something wonderful about God in how he solved this problem, because he wasn t about to give up on his plan to save humanity through Abraham s descendants, no matter how unfaithful Israel had been to him, because in the process he would demonstrate to Jew and Gentile alike just how kind, tolerant, patient and faithful he is with us humans.
5 He knew, for instance, that Israel, just like the Jews in Paul s day, would fail in their duties, Deuteronomy 31:27-29, the result of which was all sorts of disasters and difficulties they d have to suffer (17). To begin with, then, God did not take their sin lightly. And that s our second clue from God s judgment on the Jews; that God reacts strongly when his people don t take their covenant calling to heart. He also used Israel s failing to show how helpless and weak they were, to prove, Romans 3:9, that Jews and Gentiles alike are ALL under sin. That was utterly necessary too, because the plan could not continue through the Jews until they realized they were just as much sinners as the Gentiles they despised. Sin was their problem too, so the second step in God s judgment of the Jews was to help them realize they needed saving and rescuing too. For God s plan to continue through them, they had to admit they needed God s forgiveness and healing power as much as anyone else. They were just as human and just as weak, and just as much under condemnation as those they condemned. No way, then, could the Jews be a blessing to the nations while they thought they were so superior and better than all the other nations. But now that they realized, verse 10, that There is no one righteous, not even one, and no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the Law (20) - because the Law had only proved how weak they were - the Jews were nicely softened up for the next step in the plan. But how could God continue the next step in his plan of blessing the nations through Israel s obedience to the Law, when they d already proved they didn t have it in them to obey God s Law? The answer is in Romans 3:21 - But now a righteousness from God, apart from Law, has been made known. Whatever that means its purpose was clear: In verses 25 and 26, God did this to demonstrate his justice. It s to show us something else about God s justice, or judgment. We ve learnt so far that God doesn t turn a blind eye to sin (25), nor does he ignore the sad fact that all have sinned (23), and that we ve all broken his trust, broken his Law, proved how pathetically weak we are, and brought his wonderful covenant promise to Abraham to rescue and restore us back to what he planned for us in the Garden of Eden to a grinding halt. And all of us are held accountable for that, and especially the Jews, who should have known better.
6 But way back in Deuteronomy 30:3, God also promised Israel he would restore their fortunes and have compassion on them. Within God s judgment, then, is a third clue, the hope of redemption. God offers hope, too. He is not giving up on his covenant promises and he s not giving up on fulfilling them through Israel, either. But Israel is stuck with having failed because of human weakness, and cannot redeem itself by obeying the Law. God made redemption possible, however, apart from Law, Romans 3:21. Redemption instead, verse 24, came by Christ Jesus. Redemption came freely by God s grace (24), by God presenting Jesus as a sacrifice for atonement (25). To enable God s plan to continue through Israel, Jesus took Israel s sins upon himself. God s judgment on their sins, therefore, had been taken care of. You ll notice here that Jesus didn t die for anyone s personal salvation. He died to redeem Israel, so that the covenant promises to Abraham could be renewed through Israel. He died, because the covenant promises could not include Gentiles until Israel s sins had been paid for. Jesus was also an Israelite, a Jew, so in his obedience to God he d also fulfilled Israel s part in the covenant. Israel was now free to continue its part in the covenant again, because of what Jesus in his death and as a faithful Jew had done for them. They could go on in faith that they d been totally forgiven and restored back into God s favour. But imagine being a Jew at this point, and wondering how on earth you could go on to fulfill your part in God s plan by obeying the Law when you d already proved you couldn t obey the Law. God, however, had already predicted the solution to that back in Deuteronomy 30:5-6, in his promise to circumcise their hearts, enabling them to love God and fulfill his purpose for them. So in God s judgment there s a fourth clue, that he also offers help. And with his help, Israel would be able to keep his Law and do their part in the covenant, so that all nations would be blessed through them, just as God had promised. And Paul refers back to those verses himself in Romans 2:29, when he talks of that same circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, which, take note, would enable both Jews and Gentiles to keep and uphold God s Law, Romans 3:31. They would become the new Israel - not Jews outwardly, but Jews inwardly (2:29) - faithfully obeying God s Law from the heart, enabling the covenant to continue. And they could go on in total faith in that too, because God would help them fulfill their part by his Spirit.
7 And here we are now, as Christians, being that new Israel. We are the next in line to fulfill God s covenant to Abraham, which we can do now because the Spirit enables us to love God and love our neighbour from the heart. In other words, we re doing the job God called Israel to do, and at the same time we demonstrate to the world how God judges. He judges us all in the same way he judged the Jews. He holds us all accountable for failing our calling. He proves we are all helpless sinners, Jew and Gentile, with no hope of redeeming ourselves, and in no position to condemn others. But through Jesus and his faithfulness to God and his Law, and taking our sins on himself, God forgives our sins and redeems us, and gives us the Spirit so that we can love God and love neighbour as the Law requires. And God does all that for us through his Son so that we can do our part and be a blessing to others, exactly as God promised in his covenant with Abraham. And that s what God judges us on now, as to whether we seek glory, honour and immortality through fulfilling our part in God s covenant, or selfishly seek salvation only for ourselves and condemn others who aren t as righteous as we are. How do people see us, then? Do they sense the riches of God s kindness, tolerance and patience from us, or do they feel looked down upon and judged as inferior? It s important what the world sees in us, because God s Spirit in us is showing through us how God judges. God offers good news, the good news of rescue, redemption, hope and help for Jews and Gentiles alike, entirely based on the faithfulness of Jesus. And when we, as God s renewed Israel, believe that, totally trust in it, live in its reality, and support those who preach it, we become a great blessing to those around us - which gladdens God s heart, and he assures us through Paul in Romans 2:7 that he ll give us eternal life when his righteous judgment is revealed.