Summary: This is an installment in my expository series through the book of Romans.
“And Justice for All”
October 5, 2008
52. That’s the usual speed at which they nab me, at least in a 35; it’s 62 in a 45, something about 17 miles over the speed limit that tends to grab the attention of the nice officers. In my defense, it’s usually on a road where I assume the speed limit is higher than it actually is that I get my tickets…I mean, isn’t ignorance of the law an excuse? It isn’t? Oh…then again, my ignorance can much of the time be traced to a casual attitude toward the importance of knowing the speed limit; often, I’m just not paying attention like I should be, because the signs are there. Sometimes, though, I know the speed limit—and still drive faster than I should. I know the law—and yet I violate it sometimes anyway—when it comes to the speed limit. Don’t look so smug…
After introducing the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul says is powerful to produce eternal salvation in the lives of all who believe, he then launches into a significant discussion, not of God’s amazing grace that brings salvation, but of man’s predilection to sin. Grossly. Repeatedly. Religiously, some might say. And so we talked, in the second half of Romans 1, of how the pagan world had suppressed the truth of God and turned to all manner of wickedness. Last week, we considered the case of the moralizing hypocrite, who’d roundly and quickly condemn the “sinners”, but then turn around and practice the very same things himself. Today, we continue in that vein. John Piper wrote that, “…there are probably some very profound reasons for this lingering over the sinfulness of Gentiles and Jews. I think of two at least. One is that the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone simply does not land on us as overwhelmingly good news until we have some deeper sense of our sinfulness and hopelessness before God. The other reason Paul may draw out his demonstration of our sinfulness is that we are so resistant to seeing it and feeling it.”
We have forgotten about sin, choosing instead to blame problems on pathologies and psychoses. We aren’t sinful; we’re just sick! That language has captured our conversations; read of some terrorist blowing up a bus, and the response you’ll get will be, “that’s just sick!” No, it isn’t…it’s sinful. If our problems are due to an illness, then we’re let off the hook; we can’t be to blame for simply being sick!
Paul keeps beginning his sections with prepositions; of course, he didn’t write what he wrote with today’s sermon in mind, so we’ll forgive him that! This one begins with “for”, linking his words to what he has said previously. God, Paul has argued, will render to each person according to what he has done, and it doesn’t matter if that person is a pagan with no “religious background”, or that person is a religious Jew who has been part of the synagogue all his life and devoted himself to living by the Law. God’s judgment will be the same, and He will judge impartially. In the original language, the term translated here “shows no partiality”, and in the KJV as “no respect of persons”, literally means “God does not receive the face” of an individual; in other words, He doesn’t look on the outside, but on the inside. And in this respect, He is impartial.
That said, He will not judge us all the same, but in the light of your exposure to the revelation of God in your life. How would He be impartial if He judged everyone on the basis of the Law of God, when many never read the Law of God, were never exposed to its teachings, never had its guidance? And Paul answers that it’s in light of the light we do have that each of us will be judged. Notice
I. God’s Justice for Jew and Gentile Alike :12-16
The Judgment of Gentiles without the Law
“Perish” does not indicate annihilation; in the original language, the term used here refers to something that is ruined to such a degree that it cannot be used for its original purpose—in this case, glorifying God for eternity. Now, I believe that the fact that these people did not have the law of God will greatly determine the severity of their ruin, and their experience of hell; I think that’s what Paul is saying about perishing “without the law”, I believe that Christ’s words in Luke 12 bear this out:
“…that servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. 48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”