Does anyone enjoy bad news?
Well, most of you must find some satisfaction in it, for we read it and listen to it every day.
Shooting in Oregon.
Monsoon rains in South Carolina.
ISIS rampaging in the Middle East.
There is bad news every day.
The Bible has bad news. And we just read some of it in Romans 2.
But the bad news is what makes the good news good.
We are in Week 5 of a series going through a letter--- or perhaps a SERMON—written by the Apostle Paul to a church in Rome, Italy.
The letter tells us only a little bit about the church.
But the letter tells us a whole lot about the message of Christianity.
The Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ.
Review last week.
Vs. 1-5 You who are judging others are doing the very same thing. So you condemn yourself, and you too are under God’s judgment. It’s not just those “Gentile sinners.”
Today, we have the same issue. “I’m a Christian and am better than all those pagan sinners out there. How wicked they are!”
Yet in our hearts and in our actions, we sin in the same or very similar ways.
Vs. 6-11 Everyone will be judged according to their works (not their status as part of one community or one heritage. And all will be found guilty.
Vs. 12-16 All will be judged by Jesus Christ on that final day according to God’s law, whether the written law or the law on their hearts, and they will all be found guilty.
Paul’s main point so far is that, since Jews will be assessed by God in the judgment on the same basis as Gentiles, they can’t assume that they will escape God’s wrath.
For the Jews in Rome, Paul is very aware that the Jews want to boast in their history with God, the prophets, circumcision…. to automatically save them.
Honestly, as we read this, it strikes me how similar the Jews’ argument is to ours today.
We say similar things: “Hey, I have the Bible. I go to church. I was raised in a Christian home. I try hard to be good. So OF COURSE I am a Christian. Of COURSE I am saved.”
Let’s look at our passage for today.
Read vs. 17-24
Romans 2:17–24 ESV
“But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
What is Paul saying??
In short, the Jews are relying upon their heritage as God’s chosen people to justify themselves before God.
They have the TRUTH from God.
They are to be lights to all the nations.
The Jews do indeed have a glorious position and heritage.
Paul brings this up again much later in chapter 9.
Romans 9:4–5 ESV “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
They received all these glorious things from God.
Israel has had so much privilege and opportunity and heritage.
The Jews tendency is to rely upon those things—upon their status---to make them righteous before God.
Paul is saying that it can’t.
He declares them hypocrites.
He says that this privilege and heritage is worthless, for they are sinning. They are not following God at all.
They are not keeping the commands of God perfectly. And not even close to perfectly.
They are so evil themselves that the nations look at them and scoff at God.
They blaspheme God.
The same thing can happen today in our Christian world.
In my first year of college, I had absolutely no interest in God or the Bible or church.
One of the excuses I used was hypocrisy. I saw people going to church and acting religious on Sunday, but then on Monday they’ve forgotten what they proclaimed. Vs. 24 somewhat described me.
In fairness, most of my complaint was simply to deflect guilt away from myself.
Others’ hypocrisy was a convenient way for me, in my stubbornness, to reject God.
In our day, our problem is similar to the Jews in Rome.
We have all these glorious things:
We grew up in a Christian home.
We can go to church to be with God’s people,
We go to Bible studies.
We have the Bible,
We have all this knowledge
And maybe even better…
We have high moral standards.
And so we think, “Hey, surely it is enough to make me righteous. Surely it is enough to save me.”
Paul would say to us, “No, that’s not how you are saved. That’s not how anyone has EVER been saved.”
He proves that in chapters 3 and 4. We are saved by FAITH in Jesus Christ. And by Faith ALONE.
What is odd, though, is that once we are saved, we often find ourselves with the same temptations we had before as we try to live the Christian life out.
We try to justify our sins.
We have pride in our high moral standards. And yet we still sin.
We find comfort in how busy we are in the church.
We quietly boast in our hearts of our leadership and influence.
We try to make up for our sins by doing more and doing better.
And so we often try to live the Christian life in the same way we did before knowing Christ. But it doesn’t work.
Now let’s read vs. 25-29.
Romans 2:25–29 ESV
“For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
As background, Circumcision—a surgical procedure on males-- was a sign of the covenant God made to Abraham 2000 years prior to Paul’s letter.
Romans 4:11 ESV “He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well…”
Abraham was not saved by circumcision. He was saved by faith in the Lord who promised him blessing.
Circumcision was merely a sign of the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham.
And this sign was passed on to Moses and all Israel.
So circumcision was an OUTWARD sign of what had happened in the heart.
But now here in Paul’s day, Jews connected circumcision with salvation. “I’m circumcised, so of course I’m right with God. Of course I’m saved.”
But the Jews were focused almost exclusively on the externals. And they completely neglected the heart.
So Paul argues in vs. 25, “OK, your circumcision will help you IF you obey ALL the law.”
In other words, if you keep the law entirely and perfectly, then circumcision has value.
But of course, Paul’s point throughout is that NO ONE can keep all the law.
All are sinners. All fall short of God’s glory.
What do we do with this passage today? We’re not Jews. We’re not wrestling with the exact same issues.
Yet, in many ways, I don’t find us that different.
We have some Jewish attitudes in us. “Hey, I’ve been baptized. So of course I have salvation.” “I go to church. I even go to a Bible study. I was raised in a Christian home. I try hard. Of course I have salvation. It’s ridiculous to think any other way.”
Paul’s answer to us is the same: Those things, even those very good things, can never save you. They can never justify you.
The wrath of God has been aroused by your sin, and nothing EXTERNAL you have or you can do can appease him.
Where is Paul going with all this?
We must remember where Paul is going with this book.
What is he trying to prove and to teach? What is his THEME?
Back from 1:16-17, he is making a case that righteousness comes only through faith in Christ.
We gain a right standing with God only by believing in the work and the Person of Jesus.
You see, the problem is that we DO NOT have a right standing with God. Why? Because we’re sinners. We are under wrath. (That’s a big point in chapters 1 and 2. And in 3.) That’s PROBLEM #1. We are all under wrath.
And PROBLEM #2 is that we need to appease the wrath of God, but we can never do it by our works or by our heritage or by our background or by baptism or church-going or circumcision or trying harder.
None of those things can appease the wrath of God.
Are you tracking with that so far?
Paul spends a lot of time DEBUNKING arguments against all this. Dealing with man’s excuses and hypocrisy and deception and the Externals.
So again, Paul is building towards the case that you can get right with God only through Jesus. There is no other way.
What do you and I do with Romans 1 and 2??
May I be honest? Confession time. When I read through Romans, sometimes I find myself wanting to hurry through chapter 1 and 2. I think, “OK, Paul, I get the point. All of us are sinners under God’s wrath. Now what?”
You see, I love many of the later chapters, such as 6 and 8 and 12.
Passages like these:
Romans 8:1 ESV There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:31 ESV What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
I love these verses.
I think about them often.
They inspire and encourage me.
So I love some of the later chapters. BUT WHAT ABOUT CHAPTERS 1 and 2, and the first half of three?? Why don’t I want to spend as much time there??
I wonder if many of us have one of two tendencies.
And I have had BOTH of these tendencies. I suspect many of us might think this way occasionally, too.
TENDENCY 1: To gloss over chapters 1-3.
We hurry through conversation about sin and judgment. It’s BAD NEWS.
We dismiss our sin and the sin of the world.
We don’t fear God.
We dismiss it, perhaps saying, “Oh, I already know that. I’ve moved on.”
“I’ve believed in Christ. And in Romans 8:1 Paul says “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.”
So since there is no longer any condemnation for me, I don’t really need to think about chapters 1 thru 3 anymore.
That’s Kindergarten stuff, and I’ve moved on to High School.
I’ve thought this way. And honestly, it’s even crossed my mind this very week.
TENDENCY 2: To dwell here.
We pitch a tent and live here for long periods of time, and we brood over our sin and God’s anger towards it.
And we simply don’t move on to discover and embrace and believe the grace of God.
We don’t repent of our sins.
And we don’t search for God’s grace.
Instead, we try to justify ourselves.
We mope. We feel bad. We try harder. We’ll make up for it, somehow.
From my limited observations, Attempts at self-justification seems to me to be an almost universal problem.
All of us in one way or another try to justify ourselves by human means.
Here’s my premise this morning: Catch this point:
When we consider our whole lives and our relationship with God and for eternity, we must start with Romans 1, 2, and 3. We must start here.
We must not gloss over it or forget about it.
Neither do we build a house here to stay here.
Yet we must daily start here.
We have to realize that chapter 1, 2, and 3—though they are BAD NEWS-- are part of the gospel story.
And it should affect us every day.
So we START here.
But we don’t END here.
We end with faith in Jesus Christ, in worshiping for the glorious salvation God has given to us.
Let me give you a recent example from my life.
A week and a half ago, I had a couple of very difficult days. I was exhausted, sleeping poorly, and had many demands. I didn’t handle it well. I was irritable and discouraged.
I was thinking dark thoughts about my life. Anxious.
I was snapping at Annette.
If we still had a dog, I would have kicked him.
If I had been in the car, road rage would have been my companion.
How can Romans 1-3 help me?
Let’s just talk this through.
First, it can help me take an honest look at myself. Sin is bad. It is evil. It is destructive.
We all can be tempted to sugar-coat our sin.
But I shouldn’t try to minimize it. “Oh, really, it’s not that bad.”
Nor should I excuse myself: “Well, I’m just tired. I can’t HELP MYSELF.”
It is so tempting to do that.
Nor should I compare myself to others to try to appease God and my guilty conscience.
“Sure I’m in a bad mood. But I know lots of guys who are a lot worse than me!”
And if I’m REALLY Full of myself, I would say to Annette, “Hey, you should be lucky you have me.”
This honest look at sin is true for us whether we have already believed in Christ or whether we have not yet.
Sin is sin. There is no excuse for it. There is no way to sugar coat it.
Romans 1 and 2 reminds me that God hates sin. And I should to.
Nothing good comes from my sin.
Second, Romans 1-3 tells me that I cannot get right with God based on my history or my heritage or my performance.
We want to justify our sin
So our arguments can go like this:
We say, “Well, I don’t NORMALLY do such things, so I feel better about myself.”
Or we say, “At least I’m not as EVIL as all you other sinners.”
We compare ourselves to find PEACE with God.
Or, “Well, I came from a good family. And I go to church every Sunday.”
Or, “Well, to show God how sorry I am and to stop feeling so guilty, I’m going to be more determined than ever to do good things. I’m going to give money to the poor and I’m going to read my Bible an extra hour.”
Romans 1-2 tells us that none of excuses have EVER worked. And they never will work.
We are never justified by such arguments.
We cannot be saved by such arguments.
And we can’t live that way as Christians.
Again, this is true for us whether we have already believed in Christ or whether we have not yet.
Third, Romans 1-2 hints that this is not the end of the story.
We don’t stop reading.
We START with Romans 1 and 2, but we must not RESIDE there.
I don’t stay there. I don’t pitch a tent and dwell there and worry about God condemning me or bringing wrath down.
To make it very simple, from there we should keep reading. We move on to the end of chapter 3.
We read chapter 5. Chapter 8.
Truths like this:
Romans 3:23–25 ESV “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
What glorious truth!
Jesus is my propitiation! He has taken the WRATH on himself to bring me PEACE with God.
Romans 5:10 ESV For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
When we can honestly admit that Sin GRIEVES God, then being in relationship with God because of Jesus is far , far more meaningful.
It provokes such worship and thanksgiving.
Romans 6:14 ESV For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
The sin that ruled and destroyed our lives before is no longer our master.
We’ve been set free from sin’s enslavement.
We have the power of the Holy Spirit now to walk differently.
Romans 1 and 2 provides this stark contrast!!
Romans 8:15–17 ESV For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
I was under God’s wrath.
And now in Christ I’ve been exalted to the highest place, and I have been adopted as a child of the Living God.
So with chapters 1 and 2 as our constant background, we keep reading and we rejoice.
We worship. We thank God for his amazing mercy.
And we go on my way dancing for how good the Lord has been to us.
If we don’t remember the weight of our sin, we don’t value the freedom and forgiveness we have.
This reminds me of God’s dealing with Israel.
As the PREAMBLE to the Ten Commandments, the Lord tells them this:
Exodus 20:2 ESV “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You were all going to die, and I rescued you.
Through Christ, God brings us out of our spiritual Egypt, our spiritual and eternal bondage to sin.
There is a remarkable parallel to Romans.
Steps to take:
Stop comparing ourselves to one another. Compare ourselves to Christ.
Our temptation when comparing is to look for someone we think is not as spiritual as we are. This leads to arrogance and hypocrisy.
When we compare ourselves to Christ and his Word, we will fall woefully short.
We can’t ignore this or gloss over this.
Nor do we want to pitch a tent and camp there for days on end.
Stop with efforts of religious conformity or self-improvement.
Such things never justify. Never.
Our hearts are where we need to start, not outward, external things that we use as bragging points.
Humble ourselves and receive God’s grace.
Give up your pride and self-reliance and look to Christ.
Enjoy it. Rejoice in it. Worship him for it.
Romans 1 and 2 reminds us why we need God’s grace.
And it makes us more grateful.
Keep reading Romans.
I mean this both figuratively and literally.
You need to know the BAD News. But don’t camp there. There is Good news.
In 2 weeks, at the end of chapter 3, Paul’s sermon EXPLODES with good news.
Jesus Christ is Good News.