This week’s ongoing Biblical teaching series will be Romans chapter 2

Obtaining the Approval of God

(Romans chapter 2)

Today we will be continuing our in-depth study of the book of Romans by moving on to chapter 2. Here the apostle Paul continues his train of thought about God’s righteousness, which is infinite compared to that of humankind. He puts forth a word of warning to anyone who would deliberately disobey God and refuse to keep his commandments. So let’s take up where we left off last week starting at verse one.

“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. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgments on them and still do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads toward repentance? But 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. God ‘will give to each person according to what they have done’. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor 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 will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2: 7-11)

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself…”. This is a clear reference to the Gospel of Christ, which was known back then simply as “the way”. I quote from Matthew’s gospel, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7, verses 1-2) “You who pass judgment”, according to Jesus and Paul, not to mention the other apostles and their co-workers, “do so because you do the same things yourselves”. Otherwise, how would they know? Paul continues with, “…we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgments on them and still do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” This question was and still is aimed at all the hypocrites in the world. Unfortunately for Christianity, the majority of hypocrites today, as it was during Paul’s time, are found in churches (excluding American politics). Anyone who calls somebody out for alleged wrongdoing while secretly doing similar acts themselves are the ones who will receive the most severe punishment when they stand before the judgment throne of Almighty God.

God ‘will give to each person according to what they have done’. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor 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.” The Bible quote Paul was using above comes from Psalms 62:12, and it is repeated in Proverbs 24:12. God is God all by himself whether we believe it or not. So the wise course to take is fervent and uncompromising faith. Eternal death is the only alternative. So it’s up to each person to make the correct choice by choosing eternal life over eternal death.

If we persist in doing good, especially when it doesn’t profit us to do so, God sees that and He will richly reward you. If one does not, I implore you that there is still a little time left before Christ’s return. Soon the last opportunities for eternal salvation will be closed to many who refuse to believe. I cannot overemphasize the urgency of this matter. If you haven’t yet come to recognize Jesus as your Savior and kinsman redeemer, or if you have been skeptical in the past, why not ask him right now? Just say, “Dear Jesus, I’m a sinner, and I’m tired of being this way. I want to invite you into my heart so that you may reside there. I can’t fix my messed up life by myself. I urgently need your help. If you will help me with all these things I will serve you for the rest of my life. Amen.” And now let’s continue where we left off.

“There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, …but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good,…”. The phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” refers to the Hebrew viewpoint that they are the descendants of Abraham and Moses, and so by definition they are God’s chosen people. And the Bible does say that numerous times, especially in the Old Testament. But Paul immediately follows that with verse 11, “For God does not show favoritism”. The fact that God does not play favorites is the real point that Paul was trying to make. Bad people will be on the receiving end of “trouble and distress” and “wrath and anger”. There will be no exceptions. It doesn’t matter what you have done that is bad, there are no degrees of evil in God’s sight. You’re either doing wrong or you’re not. On the other hand, there will be “glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good”. In either case it won’t matter who you are, where you are from, or what religion or church you are a member of (or not). The other things that won’t matter include your race, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation or your economic status. God sees right through all of it.

Now let’s bring all this into focus by using a little reasoning. We are all under the salvation of Christ. We are all apostles just as St. Paul was. We are all equals along with the twelve apostles and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. When our lives are over we will inherit immortality just as Jesus did when he rose from the dead three days after his crucifixion. I cannot overemphasize the fact that we are all equals. Equality is therefore scriptural. It’s in the Bible and I just proved it. So, the next time you are feeling down because things aren’t going right (or because things are going badly, and it happens to the best of us), just remember this week’s lesson. It is truly comforting to know that we are equals with Christ (but never with God, to whom Christ intercedes for all of us) and with the 12 apostles (Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias) who walked the earth two thousand years ago. Keeping this in mind as we go from day to day helps us all to keep things in perspective. After all, we’re all equals. The Bible says so. Since much of what is written pertains directly to the Jewish nation (do I have any Jewish followers and friends out there? If so, let me hear from you!), I will pick through the most relevant scriptures for this particular lesson starting at verse 12.

“All who sin apart from the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be called righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things that are required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans 2, verses 12-16)

Paul’s statement that Jews and Gentiles alike can be considered righteous in God’s sight was considered heresy by the Hebrew religious establishment of that time period. This teaching, which I have previously found to be factual, was very radical even by secular standards. But then Paul goes straight to the heart of the matter when he wrote, “it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be called righteous.” So if a Christian honors the Lord by upholding – if not celebrating – the Jewish roots of Christianity by obedience and humility, he or she has done an excellent service to Jesus Christ.

Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things that are required by the law, they are a law for themselves…”. Since this statement was written in the Spirit, and since human equality is Scriptural, we know with the utmost certainty these words are true, pure, admirable and loving. It can also mean that God’s laws always supersede the laws of humankind, and especially if the laws of mankind run contrary to the original law, the Law of Moses, which was dictated and cast in stone by Almighty God himself. Paul continues his dissertation with, “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…”.

During Paul’s day, over 90% of the population was illiterate, and I believe this was likely what Paul was referring to. But the meaning is inescapable. It’s as if God is saying to his people, “Don’t tell me how goody-2-shoes you are, or how nice your personality is, or that you think you are a good person. You won’t get to heaven when you die just by doing those things. Also, I don’t want to hear about how religious you are, or what denomination you belong to, and especially how much money you give to your church or to charities. These things won’t get you past the pearly gates either. What it is time for you to do is to ask me for purity of heart. Jesus said at the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7), “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. That’s how we should be every chance we get. And now let’s conclude today’s study starting at verse 17.

“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the Law and brag about your relationship with God.… you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? ….You who brag about the law, do you dishonor the law by breaking the law? …. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as those who have not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a law breaker. A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2, verses 17, 21, and 25-29)

Whether anyone is Jewish or Christian, if they brag about their relationship with God while continuing in sin, then they are hypocrites. Does the church teach others while lacking knowledge of the Bible? Do pastors give their Sunday sermons without acknowledging their source? Or, as Paul put it, “You who brag about the law, do you dishonor the law by breaking the law?” Male circumcision is a very old tradition, dating back at least 1,500 years before the time of Christ. It’s in the Law of Moses, otherwise known as the first five books of the Bible. But Paul was right when he wrote that, “ A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.”

Whether the believer wears a “what would Jesus do” bracelet, or has Christian bumper stickers on their cars, or wears a cross around their neck, outward appearances are meaningless to God. God is not nearly as interested in how much of the Bible one has memorized as he is with the condition of our hearts – our Spiritual condition, so to speak. Such a mans or woman’s praise comes straight from the Lord on an express delivery destined for our very souls. It’s nice to be well liked by others, but this pales in comparison of being blessed and approved by God, which should be the true ultimate goal for our salvation. Let’s keep this in mind this week by doing something for God instead of ourselves. It’s the biggest blessing of all.

Free book excerpt from this fall’s release of a new set of titles by Rev. Paul J. Bern

Coming this October from Author & Web Minister Paul J. Bern — “The Social Gospel Series”, which is an extensive and very detailed series of Biblical studies Volumes 1 and 2. This week’s excerpt is part 2 of Luke’s gospel chapter 3, taken from volume 1 of the series titled “The Apostle Luke”. Volume 2 consists of the writings of the apostle Paul, and these two will be released together as a set. Work on volume 3, the writings of the apostle John, will begin in early 2020.

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John the Baptist and the Baptism of Jesus

[Luke chapter 3, verses 15-37]

This week we will be studying the 2nd half of chapter 3 of the apostle Luke’s gospel, which will include a minor detour into the gospel of Matthew. I am adding this to today’s Biblical teaching because I think it’s necessary in order to better understand why John the Baptist became the last Old Testament prophet and the very first martyr for Christ in the New Testament all at once. I will explain more about this as we go along, so hang in there while we enter into the remainder of Luke chapter three. We’ll begin at verse 15.

The people were all waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” (Luke 3: 15-18)

The phrase “the Christ” is a Greek word for “messiah”, which translates into Hebrew as ‘salvation’ (the Hebrew pronunciation is “Yeshua”). I find it noteworthy that John could have told the people he was the Messiah and could have profited greatly. Yet he chose not to do so. It apparently made a deep impression with those who came to see him and be baptized by him, and that positive indication of his character and integrity reverberates throughout Christianity to this day. But then John mentions two different baptisms, which is explained in the gospel of John chapter 3, where Jesus was responding to Nicodemus, and I quote: “…’I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born again when he is old?’, Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely a man cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth ,no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of the water and of the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’” (John 3: 3-6)

Further down in this same chapter, Jesus clarifies what he was trying to explain to Nicodemus, who held a high-ranking position as a religious leader of that day. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in God’s one and only Son.” (John 3: 17-18) I see no way this passage of Scripture could be misunderstood! If you truly and sincerely believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, you will be saved, or more explicitly your soul will be redeemed, when your physical or temporal life is over. Anyone who refuses to believe, or who places their faith in something other than Jesus Christ for their soul’s salvation, will be condemned at the end of their physical or temporal lives. Period, end of story, and there will be no exceptions! So, everyone who reads this has been warned! Belief in Jesus, combined with the practicing of our faith, is very serious business!

In the same way John warned all the people, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John was talking about the conversation I mentioned between Jesus and Nicodemus, who was a Jewish rabbi. The only thing is, that conversation had not yet taken place. Talk about being spot-on with prophecy! This is one way we can tell that John the Baptist was an authentic prophet. There was nothing phony about him! John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with fire on the day of Pentecost, which is not mentioned in the Bible until much later in Acts chapter two. John prophesied this more than 3 decades before the fact!

But what did he mean by “the thongs of his sandals”? Someone reading the Bible from beginning to end would not have that question answered until that individual gets to the story of the Last Supper, where Jesus washed the feet of his apostles as an act of humility, and to set a good example for all generations to come. Back then people wore sandals because there were no shoes like we have today. That technology had not been invented yet as far as I know. So people’s feet got really dirty, and foot washing was a sign of being welcoming and accommodating for visitors. This was work that was usually done by slaves, a clear indication of John’s awareness that Jesus, the one to follow him in prophecy, was the true Messiah. It is also further evidence of John’s humility and of his reverence for his cousin, Jesus Christ.

“’His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire’. And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” A winnowing fork is similar to a pitch fork except it’s shaped a little different, and it was used for wheat rather than for straw, although it may have been used for both. ‘Chaff’, of course, is the byproduct of wheat processing as we would call it today. John describes the chaff being burned up with ‘unquenchable fire’, which is a metaphor for those who are condemned like Jesus mentioned in John chapter three. “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” John exhorted and encouraged those he baptized to live their lives as those who were being saved by the Messiah, like a good coach, while warning them of the consequences if they did not. Bearing that in mind, let’s move on to the second part of today’s lesson.

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodius, his brother’ wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He had John locked up in prison. When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….” (Luke 3: 19-37)

What was the apostle Luke referring to here? As I explained back in chapter one, Herod the tetrarch was the ruler of what was then called Judea, which is in the general area of Israel’s West Bank territory today. Herod has an affair with Herodius, his sister-in-law, as it is documented further in Matthew’s gospel chapter 14, verses 1 through 12, and I quote: “At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodius, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her’. Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodius danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give him whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist’. The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that his request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.”

As you can see by reading in between the lines, this was a really sick and despicable bunch of people who were in charge of ruling Judea. When king Herod heard about Jesus, he thought people were seeing John the Baptist, and that he had risen from the dead. Why did Herod think this? He had a guilty conscience because he had John beheaded. Like any good prophet, John had pointed out the evil that Herod was engaged in, which was his affair with his sister-in-law. This ultimately cost John his life. One night while John was languishing in prison, king Herod had a birthday party. I can only speculate on how much everyone had had to drink, but you can be sure it was quite a bit, and Herodius’ teenage daughter evidently had helped herself to no small portion of the wine. At some point she apparently performed the equivalent of a table dance for the king, except the king soon found out there was a very high price tag that went along with her dance that Herod apparently loved so much.

As you read, when Herod told Herodius’ daughter to name whatever gift she wanted for the lewd dance she had performed for king Herod, the price was the head of John the Baptist on a platter. As you have similarly seen, this was a really twisted group of people. The prophet John gets his head cut off, and the severed head is delivered to Herodius’ daughter, who gives it to her mother (“mommy, here’s the severed human head you wanted”). So there is the background for this story within a story in Scripture, and this is how John became a martyr for Christ. I also say that there is a time coming, which for some has already arrived, when some of us may have to pay the ultimate price for our own faith. But don’t be discouraged, because that ultimate price is immediately followed by the ultimate payoff for that investment, which is eternal life with Jesus our Lord and Savior. The true scope of that payoff is so great as to be beyond our wildest dreams or our most elaborate imagination!

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” There is no avoiding the symbolism here! The water baptism and Spirit baptism of Jesus occurred all at once. This can happen with new believers too, I have met a few of them, although this was not my own experience. My experience was that there was a 16 year gap between my water baptism and my Holy Spirit baptism. I can truthfully say here that I don’t know why this was what it was, but God works in different ways with all who believe so that he can achieve his perfection through those who become one with him in Spirit!

From here onward, Luke chapter 3 devotes itself to tracing the genealogy of Jesus from his earthly father Joseph (“He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph….”) all the way back to Adam, and so back to God. Since this is rather lengthy, let me just ask the reader to give these last 13 verses of Luke chapter 3 a quick read on your own time for the sake of brevity. Along the way, certain people are mentioned who are prominent in the Old Testament (or the Law of Moses if you’re Jewish), such as the fact that Jesus claims King David, his son Solomon, and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from before that, all the way back to God the Father, as his direct ancestors. The point Luke is making here is that Jesus is unquestionably and without a doubt the Son of God. This is an indisputable fact that the Bible proves right here, right now. And we can all take heart in that fact, that our worship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God will never be in vain. On that note, I think we’ve reached a comfortable place to close, and next week we’ll move on to chapter four.

“The Social Gospel Series Volumes 1 and 2”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern will be on sale this October on my website at https://www.authorrevpauljbern.com