God’s Righteous Judgment [A Sermon I preached at Dillingham Presbyterian Church, Barnardsville, NC on Dec. 31, 2017]
SermonAudio link: tinysa.com/sermon/118181510146
[Rom 2:5-11 ESV] 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
This, I believe, is a difficult passage. It is a type of passage that one might even have some inclination to skip over. As I preach through the book of Romans I believe I am obligated to preach ALL of it. So, we will not skip over this passage.
I have been preaching through the book of Romans now for a number of sermons. But, since it has been some weeks since I last preached, it should be of benefit to review briefly where we have been in the text.
We began the book of Romans with Paul’s introduction to the church there at Rome. And in this first passage we learned about the identity we should take as Christians – slaves of God, loved by God, and set apart – called to be saints living holy lives in the Lord.
In the second passage in Romans we learned of “two types of Christians growth” – growth in the Church through mutual encouragement of one another, and growth of the church through fruit-bearing evangelism.
The third passage of Romans spoke of the “righteousness of God” which justifies believers as it is credited to us on behalf of righteousness of Jesus Christ. This serves as the key purpose statement for the entire epistle.
Then, fourth, we saw that the wrath of God is revealed in the negative consequences of sin. And thus sinners bring down punishment upon themselves.
But then, in the 5th passage, it was made clear that sinners are not just other people “out there,” but includes all people. We too are sinners. And to judge others as sinners is to condemn ourselves at the same time.
Now, we move on to today’s passage, the righteous judgment of God coming upon all men.
As we look at the passage today we want to focus on three points:
Point 1. THERE WILL BE A DAY OF WRATH
Point 2. THE JUDGMENT ACCORDING TO WORKS IS NOT WORKS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Point 3. GOD IS NOT A RESPECTER OF PERSONS
And, for each of these, the focus needs to be on explanation. We need to explain Paul’s meaning from the text before we can apply it to ourselves.
These three points, we will see, fit under the more general discussion of “the righteous judgment of God.” That is, each point points to the fact that God’s judgment is righteous.
1. There will be a Day of Wrath.
(Verse 5: But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.)
Now, the focus of this verse is that evildoers are storing up wrath which will be revealed at the day of judgment. It is a warning to turn away from sins. [REPEAT] And though this warning itself is the point of the verse, I want to focus on a slightly different point that should get the same idea across. We see here that this wrath of God is being stored up for evildoers for the day of wrath, the day of judgment. But perhaps it is just as well to note that THERE IS A DAY OF JUDGMENT. THERE WILL BE A DAY OF JUDGMENT.
That there was coming a day of judgment was not at issue for those Jews in Paul’s time, for they had read the Scriptures and knew that such an event had to occur. Some of them just perhaps thought that they’d get a pass because they were physical descendants of Israel. Paul is thus warning them that their deeds are leading towards their own judgment.
But we, not having the same society as the Jews and therefore perhaps not being as well-versed in the Old Testament, might forget that there will be a day of judgment. BUT THERE WILL BE SUCH A DAY. THERE WILL BE A DAY OF JUDGMENT! And is this itself not enough to bring concern? This alone should persuade us to turn away from our sins!
What is the day of judgment? What is the day of wrath?
This Judgment day is also called “the last day.” Paul is not referring to just merely some earthly calamity like the fall of Jerusalem, but to the very end of the world when Christ shall return and judge all mankind.
This judgment day, as you might imagine, is ONE DAY. It is a single short period of time. It is not, like some Christians contend, two separate periods of a time, a judgment of the Godly and a thousand years later a judgment of the evildoers. Rather, this is a once-for-all, all-at-once, powerful appearing of the Lord in glory to judge all men.
You might know this intellectually – that there is a day of judgment, but have you considered the meaning and importance of there being such a day?
I want the children here to think of it this way. You were supposed to clean your room. But you didn’t. And your mom or your dad is coming soon to inspect it. Are you in trouble? Are you going to clean your room or just hope that your parents don’t come to inspect it? Maybe this is a bit like judgment day, though the judgment of God is far more to be feared.
For adults and children alike, all who have been trained in the Bible, I have no doubt that you have heard of the day of judgment. Both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed say Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” The less-often recited Athanasian Creed goes into more detail. It says “He [Christ] ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.”
Note that the historic Athanasian creed definitely takes the position that there is this judgment at one point in time, not two judgments – one for the good and one for the evil, but just a single judgment. ALL men, it says, will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works. And, at this one time, the creed says “they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.”
The Scriptures themselves often speak of the day of wrath:
Jesus Christ himself speaks of the DAY of judgment a number of times in the Gospel of Matthew. He says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matt. 12:36)
Luke in the book of Acts 17:30-31: “Now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
And the author of the book of Hebrews 9:27–28 (ESV) says: 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Application: Since there IS a day of wrath we should NOT live as if there isn’t.
Perhaps you have heard a term Pastor Hicks has used – “practical atheist.” The practical atheist believes in God; He just lives as if there isn’t a God. He makes up his own rules, ignoring the laws of God as if there is no consequence of doing so. The practical atheist is oblivious to the fact that there will be a day of judgment. Let us not fall into this practical atheist lifestyle by forgetting that there will be a day of judgment. Rather, because there will be a day of judgment, we should have a fear of God that leads to repentance. REPEAT
Transition: As we continue in Paul’s passage from Romans, we see that he tells us that on that day of Judgment ALL men will be judged, “according to their works.” What does this mean?
2. The Judgment according to work is not works righteousness!
We read:(Verses 6-10: 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.)
When I mentioned at the outset that the passage today is difficult, I primarily had this section in mind. Paul at first sight might seem to be preaching works righteousness!
Works righteousness is that atrocious doctrine of the ancient heretic Pelagius who taught that we can become righteous by doing good works. For Pelagius it was as if Jesus Christ had never died for our sins.
The teaching of works righteousness continues in the Catholic church and elsewhere, but in a different sense than the teaching of Pelagius. No church today is explicitly Pelagian, but many are what is called Semi-Pelagian. That is, while the Catholic church and other churches as well admit that works alone are insufficient for salvation, they allow for man’s works to gain merit towards our salvation to add what what Christ has earned for us. But by including, or adding man’s works into the equation, these churches make man’s works the deciding factor in salvation. So works, for them, are not the only factor as for Pelagius, but they are still the causal factor. This robs God of his glory and gives glory to man for supposedly earning salvation.
And though you might think at first that Paul is teaching works righteousness, he definitely is not.
The entire epistle of the Romans is a treatise on salvation by grace alone, by faith alone. Paul is not sneaking in works here! He says in this letter,
“the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith (1:17),”
and “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law (3:21),
and “we hold that one is justified apart from works of the law” (3:38)
and “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (5:1)”
Nor is works righteousness taught elsewhere in the Scriptures.
In fact, when Paul here says “He will render to each one according to his works” he is repeating a line from the Psalms. It is from Psalm 62:12 where David says: “to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.”
Is David promoting works righteousness? (when he says that God will render to man “according to his work”)
Let us read the rest of the Psalm, because context kills heresy. Context will clear up your theology.
[Psa 62:1-12 ESV] 1 A Psalm of David. For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. 3 How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? 4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah 5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. 8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah 9 Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. 10 Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them. 11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, 12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.
How many times in this Psalm do we hear that salvation is of the Lord alone?! (rather than of works righteousness)
1. from him comes my salvation.
2. He alone is my rock and my salvation
3. For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him
4. He only is my rock and my salvation
5. On God rests my salvation
Our works are of no avail. Salvation is of the Lord alone.
So, then, what does David mean when he says “you will render to a man according to his work.” And what did Paul mean when he repeated David’s saying “He will render to each one according to his works”?
I believe the best way to understand this is to say “The good works believers do are not themselves the basis for acquittal, but good works are evidence of the believer’s union with Christ. And it is on this account – union with Christ – that believers will be pronounced righteous.”
Good works are not themselves the basis for receiving eternal life, but are evidence of our changed lives, having been united with Christ in his death and resurrection. [REPEAT]
Works do not make you righteous, but evidence whether you have faith.
I think the key to understanding this judgment is found in the passage itself. The judgment is NOT presented to be like a weighing scale. God does not judge one person to have 51% good works and another to have 90% bad works. Rather, in today’s passage, there are only those with “patience in well-doing” and those who “obey unrighteousness.” That is, at the judgment there are some who are seen to be 100% righteous and others who are seen to be 100% unrighteous. The difference in the righteousness of the elect and the unrighteousness of the reprobate is a matter of God’s grace. This grace then produces good works in the elect, and the lack of Grace leaves the reprobate in their sin doing only evil works. Good works give outward testimony, they bear witness, to the inward renewed status of the elect – the forgiven believers in Christ.
So I must ask you, and you must ask yourself, do you have that evidence? Do you have that evidence in your life; those good works that proceed of necessity from being renewed in Christ? You should not rest content in a faith that does no good work for Jesus. You cannot have a saving faith in Jesus and live like the devil. If one has a saving faith in Jesus he will hate living like the devil. You are to do good works, not in order to merit salvation, but you are to do good works as a result of the Holy Spirit working in you both to will and to do good works.
Maybe you ask, What are good works? In addition to following God’s commandments, good works include patience, listening, visiting and fellowship, prayer, Bible reading, doing physical work for someone else, taking care of others in various ways, treating your own body in a healthy way, and being a good steward of the things of the world of which God has given you temporary ownership and control. These are just some of many possible good works.
If these things do not describe you, you should be very fearful for the day of judgment.
If these things do describe you, you should praise the Lord for what he has done in you.
It is this same message which is prominent in the Epistle of James. Faith without works is dead. That is, it is not real faith. It is hypocritical faith. Real faith in Jesus Christ – believing in Christ, trusting in Christ, necessarily leads to good works.
Let’s read the relevant section from James:
James 2:14-26 (ESV) – Faith Without Works Is Dead
14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
This passage is often referred to by those Semi-pelagians who wish to argue against the Biblical view of salvation by Faith alone. That is, they say this passage teaches that salvation of faith plus works. But that is not what the passage teaches. James’s teaching matches that of Pauls. Salvation is alone by faith; a faith that produces good works.
James does not say that “Faith is insufficient for salvation” but “THAT Faith is insufficient for salvation.” That is, a Faith that does not have works is not a robust true faith in Christ.
This must suffice for our second point: Paul is not teaching work’s righteousness. Let us return to our passage in Romans.
Transition: Following these verses about the “judgment according to works” Paul concludes “For God shows no partiality.”
And so this is our third point, “God shows no partiality.” Or said another way, “God is not a respecter of persons.
3. God is a not a respecter of persons.
Again, we ask, what does this mean?
Twice in the passage Paul has noted “for the Jew first and also the Greek.” He includes all people in the judgment. Jews should not and cannot rely on their status as descendants of Abraham. And so God is not partial to the Jews over the Greeks. Nor is He partial to anyone based on their earthly status.
This message is frequent in Scripture:
Deut. 10:17 – For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
Job 34:19 – who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?
Acts 10:34 – So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
Galatians 2:6 – And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.
Ephesians 6:9 – Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
From these verses we have it that God is not partial, he shows no favor upon a person because of their (1) bribes, (2) nor because they are rich, (3) nor because they are of a certain nation, (4) nor because they are influential in the world, nor (5) because they are masters rather than slaves. These mean nothing to God.
The purpose of this is to return to the great theme Paul is developing: no one is righteousness. If you think you are without sin, you are mistaken. If you think that your status will save you, you are mistaken. Your only hope is the righteousness of God credited to you so that will be renewed by the Holy Spirit and produce works judged to be good.
GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
Our text today can be summarized by noting one phrase used within it: “God’s Righteous Judgment.” God’s judgment is always just. It is righteous. Naturally, it must be righteous because He is righteous. Since we are unrighteous and he is righteous we cannot complain of his judgment. Nor can we hope that God will respect us because of what we do, for as sinners our works cannot bring righteousness.
Because God is not a respecter of persons, but there will be a judgment day when our deeds will be seen, what should we do?
Some conclude that they should live it up while they can. But what foolishness and short-sightedness. God’s judgment is eternal. For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, there will be wrath and fury resulting in tribulation and distress.
What should we do to avail ourselves of God’s mercy and avoid His judgment? First, we should not rely on our status. Nor should we think that the judgment will never come. But we must repent of our sins, believe in Christ who alone is righteousness and will credit us as righteous. Knowing this – that Jesus Christ has forgiven our sins – we should go forth in joy, doing good works, which will be judged as good by God who, through his Holy Spirit, works in us to do good works. Thus, to God be the glory.
Let us conclude by again reading from the Psalms and meditating upon these words: [Psa 62:5-7 ESV] For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Lord we pray that the message today from your holy Word does convict us that our faith in you is to be bearing fruit. We pray for your work in us to lead us unto good works. And we thank you for the righteousness credit to us so that on that great day of judgment we will be given that which you have promised – glory, and honor, and peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
God’s Righteous Judgment [A Sermon I preached at Dillingham Presbyterian Church, Barnardsville, NC on Dec. 31, 2017]