August 22, 2011

Tuesday after the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary


Morning - Ps. 5, 1 Sam. 16:14, Lk. 1:1-14

Evening - Ps. 16, 20, Esther 6, Rom. 2:1-16


Commentary

Romans 2:1-16


The point of this passage is that Gentiles are under the wrath of God, even though they do not have the law as the Jews have. In contemporary lingo, we would say that even people who don't have the Bible to tell them about God and Christ, are under the wrath of God. This passage tells us why.


Verse 1. Paul continues to drive home the point that all are under the just condemnation of God. He puts it in very personal terms here, "thou art inexcusable." "Thou" refers to humanity in general, but also to every individual person. All are inexcusable. We are inexcusable even if we never had a Bible or never heard the Gospel. Why? Because God is revealed in nature (Ps.19:1-2) and in conscience (Rom. 2:15) and we refused to honour Him. We know the difference between right and wrong because it is written on our hearts and we choose to do wrong and neglect good. "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done" (Book of Prayer, p. 6). We often look at the deeds of others and say. "That's wrong." In doing so we acknowledge a standard that is above our own ideas and desires, to which all people should conform. We also acknowledge that all people do not conform to it, and in so doing we condemn ourselves, for we know we do not conform to it either. We are guilty of many transgressions against it.

Question; what does God owe to those who transgress? Do such people have a right to Heaven? Does God owe them forgiveness? Does God have any duty to save them? Does God owe them Christ? Does Christ owe them His death on the cross? Would God be unjust if He just left us in our sin? Would He be unjust if He decided not to save any of us?



Verse 2. "[T]he judgment of God is according to truth against them." The Greek word translated "judgment" here is krima from which we derive our word, "crime." It means that when God condemns sinners as criminals against His righteous law and traitors against His rightful Sovereignty, His judgment is true. It is "according to truth." Read Psalm 19:9.



Verse 3 tells us that when we judge others, meaning to recognise their actions as sin and worthy of condemnation, we also judge ourselves. It asks the question, "thinkest thou... that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? We are as guilty as everyone else, why should we escape condemnation? Let's talk again of the way we are able to judge the actions of others, and recall that the ability to judge an action, say theft, or murder, as "wrong" implies the existence of an absolute standard of right and wrong. Without an absolute standard we have no right or wrong. We may have a "social contract" or we may have a common assent to what is "useful" or what we will "tolerate" and what we will not, but we can never have right and wrong. Furthermore, any standards derived from a social contract or common assent of usefulness or tolerance (called by philosophers, utilitarianism) is purely arbitrary. We are then forced to ask what gives anyone the right to force their social contract on me without my consent. I am sure prisoners will say they do not consent to having our social contract forced upon them. "What gives society the right to force its view of what is and isn't useful on me?" they will ask. Again, if we just agree arbitrarily that murder is not useful, without some absolute standard by which to judge it, we must ask why our view of usefulness can be enforced upon others in our society or world. What makes our arbitrary views superior to another's arbitrary views? I am sure, that, by this rationale, some prisoners who are in jail for transgressing our arbitrary standards will not agree or consent to having them forced upon them. Only an absolute standard that is above the whims and ideas of people can give a foundation for law and justice and society and peace. When we look at the actions of another person and say they are wrong, we recognise the existence of that standard. But, we also condemn ourselves because we have not kept the standard anymore than the people we judge. We may not have committed the same transgressions, but that just means we have committed other transgressions. We are not under the wrath of God for not committing the same transgressions others commit. We are under the wrath of God for committing our own transgressions.



Verses 4-5. The revelation of God, whether in nature, conscience, or Scripture, should lead people to faith and repentance. Instead it simply hardens most people in their unbelief and rebellion. As Francis Schaeffer wrote, "What God meant for their good - such things as the witness of creation and the witness of conscience - serves only to deepen these rebels in their rebellion" (Finished Work, p. 48). They despise the riches of His goodness, the stay of execution, and His patience with their sin. In the hardness of their heart against God, they store up wrath to be poured out upon them in the day of wrath, which is the day they stand before God to receive their just condemnation.



Verses 6-16 do not teach that we can stave off the wrath of God by turning away from sin and doing good. They do teach that we do what our hearts tell us to do. If our hearts are set against God, we do ungodly things. If our hearts are set towards God, we do Godly things. But the fearful truth is that everyone's heart is originally set against God. We are all fallen into sin and wickedness. We have all placed ourselves on the throne of God. We are all by nature and by choice hardened in our rebellion and sin against God, and we can't get ourselves out of it. We need a Saviour. I once found a dead sparrow in the horses' water trough. I don't know how it got into the water. Maybe it slipped in trying to get a drink. Maybe it flew in, thinking it was a bird-bath. But it couldn't get out. It needed a saviour, but it didn't have one. When I found it, it had drowned. That is what God is telling us in these verses. We have gotten ourselves into a dangerous situation and we can't get ourselves out. We don't even want to without special help from God. We can't get out of it by saying we didn't know about God, or we didn't have the Bible, or we didn't know right from wrong. That won't excuse us because we did have some knowledge, and we rejected it. People do not sin because they don't have the Bible to tell them not to. They sin because they love it. And those who sin without the Bible will not be condemned for not having the Bible. They will be condemned for not doing the good they knew they should have done, and for doing the evil they knew they should not have done (vs. 12). They are trapped in a deadly cycle of sin and condemnation, and they can't get out. They need a Saviour.

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