Summary: This sermon shows how no-one, not even the moralist, has any excuse before God.
Let’s read Romans 2:1:
"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" (Romans 2:1).
In Romans 1:24-32 Paul describes God’s severe judgment upon those that have rejected God’s natural revelation of himself and plunged themselves into idolatry.
One wonders how God deals with the more upright, moral, and religious person who has a sense of right and wrong, and leads an outwardly virtuous life.
Many ethically upright people would heartily concur with Paul’s assessment of the flagrantly immoral people he has just described in Romans 1:24-32. They obviously deserve God’s judgment. Throughout history many non-Christians have held high standards of conduct. As F. F. Bruce points out, the Roman philosopher Seneca, a contemporary of the apostle Paul,
"might have listened to Paul’s indictment and said, ’Yes, that is perfectly true of great masses of mankind, and I concur in the judgment which you pass on them—but there are others, of course, like myself, who deplore these tendencies as much as you do.’
"Paul imagines someone intervening in terms like these, and he addresses the supposed objector . . . . How apt this reply would have been to a man like Seneca! For Seneca could write so effectively on the good life that Christian writers of later days were prone to call him ’our own Seneca.’ Not only did he exalt the great moral virtues; he exposed hypocrisy, he preached the equality of all men, he acknowledged the pervasive character of evil, . . . he practiced and inculcated daily self-examination, he ridiculed vulgar idolatry, he assumed the role of a moral guide. But too often he tolerated in himself vices not so different from those which he condemned in others—the most flagrant instance being his connivance at Nero’s murder of his mother Agrippina."
Most Jews of Paul’s day believed in the idea that performing certain moral and religious works produced righteousness. Specifically, they believed that they could earn God’s favor—and therefore eternal life—by keeping the Mosaic Law and the traditions of the Rabbis. Many believed that even if they failed in their works-righteousness effort they might forfeit some earthly reward but were still exempt from God’s judgment simply because they were Jews, God’s chosen people.
The Jews were firmly convinced that God would condemn Gentiles because of their idolatry and immorality but that no Jew would ever experience such condemnation. They loved to repeat such sayings as, “God loves Israel alone of all the nations,” and, “God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another.” Some even taught that Abraham sat outside the gates of hell in order to prevent the most wicked Jew from entering hell.
In his Dialogue with Trypho, the 2nd century Christian Justin Martyr reports his Jewish opponent as saying, “They who are the seed of Abraham according to the flesh shall in any case, even if they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God, share in the eternal kingdom.”
And so Jews had a tremendous confidence that they were right with God, regardless of what they believed or how they lived.
Today, even non-Christians have some knowledge of good and evil built into them. Consequently, some people today recognize and seek to uphold the moral standards of Scripture and profess to be right with God. But, like Seneca, because they are not true Christians, they lack the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables them to resist sin and live godly lives. They trust in their baptism, in their church membership, in their being born into a Christian family, in the sacraments, in high ethical standards, in orthodox doctrine, or in any number of other outward ideas, relationships, or ceremonies for spiritual and even eternal safety.
But no one can understand or receive salvation apart from recognizing that he stands guilty and condemned before God, totally unable to bring himself up to God’s perfect standard of righteousness. And no person is exempt. The outwardly moral person who is friendly and charitable but self-satisfied is, in fact, usually harder to reach with the gospel than the reprobate who has hit bottom, recognized his sin, and is deeply convicted about his sin.
Therefore, after showing the immoral Gentile his lostness apart from Christ, Paul proceeds to show the Jewish moralist that, before God, he is equally guilty and condemned.
Today, I want to show you how the moralist has no excuse before God.
I. What’s Wrong with Morality?
First, I want to begin by asking what’s wrong with morality?
Paul’s therefore refers to the previous section, in which he has described the entire race as being under the wrath of God, and he has shown the depths to which our rebellion against God has led.