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.