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Wrong Ways to be Right With God: Romans 2

Updated on May 26, 2019
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

Relationship with God Begins With Admitting Sin

In a recent sermon, Dr. Jeff Shrieve told the story of a well dressed, middle aged woman who came down the isle to be saved. The pastor lead her in a prayer of faith and asked the lady to repeat after him. He began: "Dear Lord, I know that I'm a sinner." He waited for her response, but never heard it, so he repeated the words: "Dear Lord, I know that I'm a sinner!" Still no response, so the pastor asked the woman if she could hear him. "Yes", she responded. "Then what's the problem?" he asked. She said: "I just can't say those words. I'm not that bad. I may have done some things I regret. But I'm not a sinner!" The pastor told her: "Then I can't help you. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and unless you admit it then you may as well go back to your seat!"The woman thought about this for a moment, then told the pastor: "Well if I were a sinner, then I would be an excellent sinner!"

This story is both funny and tragic. To think that someone is too proud to realize that they are a sinner in need of a Savior is sad. And to believe that you are too good to need salvation by grace is diametrically opposed to the good news of the gospel found in the writings of the Bible and in the book of Romans. Yet there are many today who fall into that category.

The word 'grace' means 'unmerited favor.' And the first step to finding the favor of God and receiving His righteousness is first to admit that you are a hopeless sinner who has fallen short of the Lord's glory. No amount of works can ever make you right with a holy God.

Last week I began a study of the book of Romans entitled:When a Society Abandons God in which the Apostle Paul is expounding upon the major theme of the righteousness which comes from God. As I said, it is the glorious message that God justifies sinners by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

We pointed out last time that the key verses for all of this book, are Romans 1:16,17. Paul tells us here:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

No one can be saved by works, and the great Apostle tells us, beginning in Romans 1:18-32 how it would be impossible for any of mankind to be right with God on their own without some intervention from the Lord Himself.

I. Introduction to Romans 2

Paul spent the last part of chapter 1 telling us or the Lord's wrath against mankind, particularly the Gentile world. They knew the one true God in the beginning but abandoned Him (1:18-32). Instead they worshiped false gods or idols (21-23).

So he uses the Greek word paredōken three times. This is translated as God 'gave them over.' It is a judicial term for prisoners being handed over to their sentence. In giving them over, the Lord allowed them to experience the full measure of their sins. As men consistently abandon God, He abandons them by removing restraint and allowing them to maximize their degradation.

His first judgment is that He allows them to be abandoned to the lusts of their hearts with the degrading of their bodies and idolatry (24,25).

Secondly, He allows homosexuality to run rampant. This sin goes against the original plan of man and woman, created in the image of God being fruitful, multiplying and filling the earth, and subduing it as the Lord's image-bearers (26-27).

Finally, in chapter 1 Paul says that God gives people over to a depraved mind (28-32).

A person might wrongfully come to the end of this list of sins and say: "Those evil people!" They really deserve God's wrath against them! I am certainly glad I'm not like any of them!" Well, it is for these very self-righteous people that the second chapter of Romans is written.

I just heard a message by Cameron McCallister, who is a speaker and writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, in which he stated:

"Success in the Christian life begins with a recognition of your failure. That is a failure to save yourself."

The essence of true Christianity is not a pride that God has chosen me because of anything special in me over the rest of the world. It is an utter surprise and gratefulness that He chose me at all. For I am a sinner, just like the everyone else, in need of grace.

I must not compare myself simply to others and their sins. God is the standard and I will fall short of His glory every time. Jesus Himself gave the qualifications that we must keep. He said: "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48). And therefore my righteousness will never get me into Heaven. Because of this I can never boast.

Paul, in the first 3 chapters of Romans, is setting up the case that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He began by looking at the pagan or Gentile world in chapter 1. Now he turns his attention to those who claim moral and religious superiority; specifically the Jews. However, though Paul is referring to the Jewish world, it can be applied to anyone who sees themselves as superior and not worthy to be judged for their sins.

II. Judgmentalism Condemned (2:1-13)

The Apostle doesn't beat around the bush when he hits at those who feel superior. He begins like this:

"Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same thing." (2:1).

As I stated, Paul's primary audience is Jews in this chapter. And indeed they did have a feeling of moral superiority to non-Jews in the first century. However, this also includes moral Gentiles who think that they are exempt from God's judgment. They may not have engaged in all of the moral excesses of chapter 1, but they are sadly mistaken if they think that they are any better than the worst of sinners that Paul has already mentioned. God hates sin of any kind and just one transgression will keep us from being declared righteous (James 2:10).

How much sewer-water does it take to make a person's drinking-water contaminated? One drop should make us want to avoid it. It is the same with the holiness of God. He cannot stand any of the sewer-water that is our sin.

And if a person has a greater knowledge of God than a pagan then he will be held more responsible for his sin. Because, in theory, he should have the knowledge to evaluate his own condition before a Holy God. The person who judges should realize God's standards and that he himself falls far short of them.

It is amazing how we can condemn someone else and totally overlook our own sins before the Lord. We tend to minimize God's standards while underestimating the depth of our own sin. However, with others, we tend to hold them to a strong standard of righteousness and point their sins out boldly. Well, we may escape the judgment of the world for this and we may not condemn ourselves. However, Paul says:

"But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But you are storing up wrath for yourself and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds..." (2:3-6).

It was the unrepentant heart of the Jewish people that demonstrated that they did not respond to God's love and grace any better than the Gentile world. and they will all be judged equally. As the Apostle tells us:

"For there is no partiality with God. 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." (11-12).

It appears here that the Gentiles who never heard the Law of God will be judged based upon the limited knowledge that they have.

When it talks about partiality here, the word literally means "to receive a face." By that it means "to give consideration to someone because of his position." God won't be partial to the Jews because of their exalted position that they received. Rather they will be judged because of their willing rejection of God's just commands for the simple fact that they had a greater advantage by having the Law of Moses. And they were to have been His chosen people to share His glory with the world.

It must be stated that just hearing about the Law won't give you an advantage in God's sight. Doing what it says will bring justification. And the Jews fell far short of this, as does anyone who knows God's righteous decrees (13). None of us can keep God's Law.

III. Moral Nature of Man Condemned (14-16)

But even though the Jew had a great advantage being given the Law, it must be realized that no man has ever been completely without the knowledge of God's righteous decrees, One of the benefits and also responsibilities of man being created in the image of Almighty God is that we all have a moral nature. This is basically Paul's premise when he says:
"For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things in 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, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ." (14-16).

This doesn't mean that all men know the specific moral standards revealed in Scripture. It does mean, however, that all mankind recognizes the same general moral issues. And all societies will set moral standards that they feel they need to follow. Further, they have a conscience, or an instinctive sense of right and wrong, which, if it is working correctly, should produce guilt when violated. However, repeatedly ignoring the conscience will desensitize and ultimately silence it. That is what has happened to the Gentile world as a whole.

And looking at the world we can see, as well, that men cannot even follow their own moral standards that they themselves set, much less those of God. So this makes our moral nature useless in obtaining righteousness.

IV. The Claim of Following the Law Condemned (17-29).

After he concludes that outwardly moral people, both Jews and Gentiles, are condemned before a righteous and Holy God, Paul then turns his attention to the Jews alone. They indeed were given the Law of God which is superior to all others. However, being instructed in or even approving of God's commandments doesn't in and of itself make the Jews morally superior. The Apostle Paul says that the Jewish people violated the very Law that they espoused and taught. He goes even farther by quoting Isaiah 52:5 as well as Ezekiel 36:20-21 and proclaims:

"For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you just as it is written." (2:24).

Later when we get into chapter 3 we will see the Apostle tell us that no one was ever meant to be saved by the Law. It doesn't have the power to save. God's Law was given that "every mouth may be stopped and the whole world held accountable to God." (3:19).

So, man on his own, without the changed heart that is received by faith in Jesus Christ as one's Savior, cannot be saved by following the commandments of God. That is because of the fact that none of us is able to do so. The Jews proved this over and over again in the Old Testament.

So, we have seen that neither the Jewish heritage, nor their knowledge could bring about the righteousness that they were looking for, or protect them from God's righteous judgment. And neither could their religious ceremonies such as circumcision, which Paul mentions Righteousness is first an inside job. And an outside ritual could never cause a changed heart and life. (2:25-29).


Steven Cole once told this story about the power of guilt and forgiveness which may help us to sum up this message. He said:

A little boy was visiting his grandparents and given his first slingshot. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit his target. As he came back to Grandma's back yard, he spied her pet duck. On an impulse he took aim and let fly. The stone hit, and the duck fell dead. The boy panicked. Desperately he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to look up and see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch that day, Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn't you, Johnny?" And she whispered to him, "Remember the duck!" So Johnny did the dishes.

Later Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing., Grandma said, "I'm sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally smiled and said, "That's all taken care of. Johnny wants to do it." Again she whispered, "Remember the duck." Johnny stayed while Sally went fishing. After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's, finally he couldn't stand it. He confessed to Grandma that he'd killed the duck. "I know, Johnny," she said, giving him a hug. "I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. But I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

That, in a nutshell, is what sin does to us. It enslaves us to guilt, God's wrath upon us, and spiritual and physical death. We may seek to ease the pain by saying that we aren't as bad as the next guy, or we may try to work hard to assuage it. We may also be like the Jews and think that we have such a special relationship with God that He would never condemn us for that sin and send us to hell.

But, over and over again, sin and Satan keep coming back at us saying: "Remember the Duck!" Or in our case it says: "Remember the sin and evil you've done!" You'll never be good enough for God to accept you!" And the sad thing is, that this assessment is correct!" Nothing you or I can ever do will make us righteous before a Holy God. Nothing, that is, except receiving someone else's righteousness. Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." (II Corinthians 5:21).

A real relationship with God begins with the admission that you don't deserve God. You must say: "Nothing in my hands I bring! Only to the cross I cling!"

If you don't know this unmerited favor, this grace of God, then please accept His mercy and grace today. He has already provided the forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It is a gift but like any gift, it must be accepted in order for you to have it. Don't be enslaved any longer to the guilt and the consequences of your sin. You can be free of them forever. You can be free to forget the sin by taking the Savior. And He will give you His righteousness and peace. Let us praise Him for His amazing grace!

© 2019 Jeff Shirley


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