Lesson 4: The Impartial God (Romans 2.1-16)

But I’m not legalistic!

  1. Being charged with legalism can be very perplexing. After all, I don’t think I can earn my salvation. I don’t think that if I were baptized 100 times it would “earn” my entrance into heaven. Nor do I think that worshipping without instrumental music, fellowship halls and recreational facilities merits God’s approval. I firmly believe that I am saved by grace through faith. Yes, faith is obedient, but I would never argue that my works earned God’s grace toward me. I really don’t know anyone who would make such an argument. So, why do we sometimes hear the charge of legalism?
  2. That charge is sometimes made not because any of us (or we collectively) believe that we’ve earned God’s favor by our actions, but that we belong to the right group. In other words, our identification with the RIGHT church that teaches the RIGHT gospel and that interprets the Scriptures with the RIGHT approach to authority makes us God’s people. All others, since they aren’t RIGHT must be WRONG.
  3. IMPORTANT NOTE: do not interpret the preceeding paragraph to mean that the church you worship with, the gospel that is proclaimed or the approach to authority are not important. THEY ARE! However, reliance on those things leads to a mindset that can be described as legalism: I’m part of the right group, hence I’m saved. You’re part of the wrong group, hence you’re lost. Such a mindset can lead one to gloss over his own failings/struggles because he’s part of the right group. Likewise, good deeds and faith in others is discounted because, after all, they’re in the wrong group.
  4. It was this brand of legalism that was practiced by the Jews. They were part of the right group, they had the Law, they were God’s people. The Gentiles? They were lost, and deservedly so! After all, those things Paul laid out in Romans 1:18-32 were deserving of God’s wrath. The Jews were the RIGHT group. The Gentiles were in the WRONG group. (Note: The Jew-Gentile tension that Paul addressed is not an apples to apples comparison with the differences between the church and denominations. However, it’s the attitude that I’m seeking to address)
  5. It is this attitude that Paul destroys in our text. God would reward or punish each person (not each group) based on their reliance on Him and following Him. This was true for “the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

The God Who Renders To Each Based On What He Has Done (vss 1-11)

  1. While the Jews are not specifically addressed until vs. 17, it seems that Paul has Jewish bias in mind in these verses. They had passed judgment on the entire Gentile world. And given how that world is described in Romans 1.18-32 weren’t they deserving of that judgement?
  2. However, Paul charged them with practicing the same things! It is doubtful that Paul meant they were guilty of all the sins found in 1.18-32, although several sins such as “arrogant,” “boastful” and “unmerciful” would certainly have applied to the Jews. But recall that the great problem of the world was that man had reversed the rolls of Creator and creature. That was Adam’s sin, a sin the Gentile world continued in with their deprivations. The Jews had done the same in making the Law the mark of salvation and “barring” the way to the Gentiles.
  3. If the Jews knew that God’s wrath would come upon Gentile iniquity, why did they think that it wouldn’t come on them? It would! (vs. 2).
  4. However, as we’ve already seen, the gospel is God’s power to salvation to all (1.16-17). Rather than judging the Gentile world, the Jews should have embraced that God desired that all respond in obedient faith. The Jew should have recognized that God’s call to repentance was to all! (vs. 4)
  5. Tragically, the Jews had been known for their “hard hearts” in the Old Testament (Jer. 4.4; Ezek 3.7; Deut 10.16). Paul will later say that the true “Jew” is one who’s heart is circumcised (2.29). A stubborn, hard heart can only result in God’s wrath! (vs. 5) Recall that the world was already experiencing the “wrath of God” (1.18ff). Conscientious Jews who followed the Law may not have been experiencing the results of sinful behaviour like the rest of the world, but they were still sinners. Thus, God’s wrath would still come upon them… it was being stored up (vs. 5).
  6. They could be sure that God’s wrath would be brought upon them because God is impartial! (vs. 6-10) This quality of God is stated throughout the Scriptures (Deut 10.17; 2Chron 19.7; Acts 10.34-35; Col 3.25; Eph 6.9). Thus, He will always reward the righteous. He will always punish the wicked. It does not matter which group you belong (Jew or Gentile, note that both are mentioned in vs. 9 and vs. 10). What matters is whether you follow God.
  7. NOTE: Calvin’s doctrine of predestination cannot stand up to this passage. More about that in another lesson.

But What About The Law? (vss. 12-16)

  1. In our next lesson we will note how Jewish assurance of salvation was based on being the people who possessed and supposedly kept God’s Law (i.e. the Mosaic Law). But as we go along in the text Paul will show that salvation isn’t through the Law, but that the Law defined what is right and what is wrong. Violate Law and you perish with the Law. Sin against God without the Law and you perish without the Law!
  2. Because the Law was not simply something to be read and heard. It was meant to be followed! (vs. 12; Deut. 30.11-14)
  3. Furthermore, the Gentiles kept many of the precepts of the Law. Remember, they were under the original covenant between the Creator and the created (Romans 1.18ff). So, they may not have kept the Law delivered by Moses, but given that basic morality is common in all cultures, the Gentiles had all along been keeping aspects of the Law.
  4. Paul’s point: a day is coming when God will judge all. God will be impartial. God will punish those who sin, reward those who do good. This would be true of those who had the Law (Jews) and those who did not (Gentiles). Law will not save you.
  5. Note Paul’s use of the term “gospel” in vs. 16. We’ve already noted that the gospel reveals God’s righteousness (i.e. faithfulness to His covenant promises) for all people: Jew and Gentile. But here Paul states that the gospel declares God’s judgment on all men through Christ. In other words, before we can get to the good news of how we can all (both Jew and Gentile) be saved through faith in Christ, we must face the reality that we’ve all (both Jew and Gentile) sinned and are either experiencing the wrath of God or storing it up. The gospel starts with showing us how sick we are, then gives us the cure!

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