Sermon on Romans 2:12-16 – The Only Escape From Judgment
SermonAudio link: tinysa.com/sermon/118181511167
Jan. 7, 2018 at Dillingham Presbyterian Church
[Rom 2:12-16 ESV] 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
In my last sermon we learned from Paul’s letter to the Romans that there will be a day of judgment. Today we hear more about this day in which God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
And for those who have a fear of God, knowing that He is just and all-powerful, and for those who know that they are sinners, both in their actual deeds and in the secrets they keep, the first question will likely be, “How can I escape the judgment of God?” “How can I escape the judgment of God?”
Should we run from God? Should we bury our heads in the sand and ignore the Word of God hoping that our ignorance will get us off the hook?
Or is hearing the Word of God all we need? Like a doctor, should I just say “Take two sermons and see me next Sunday?”
And are they who know not the law given a free pass?
To these five questions Paul answers … No, No, No, No, and …. No.
Ignorance is not the path to salvation. Neither is merely hearing the Word and ignoring it. We cannot escape the judgment of God by ignoring him. Nor can we escape the judgment of God by hearing his word then ignoring what it says. Whether one is ignorant of God’s law or can recite the whole Bible from memory, all people are sinners in need of God’s grace. And this, the grace of Jesus Christ, as Paul contends in the book of Romans, is our only escape from God’s judgment. THE GRACE OF JESUS CHRIST IS OUR ONLY ESCAPE FROM GOD’S JUDGMENT.
To help understand Paul’s conclusion we will look at each verse of this passage in turn.
We’ll form the following outline of points from this passage:
1. IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS
2. HEARING IS NOT BLISS
3. ALL ARE AWARE OF GOD’S LAW
4. JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY ESCAPE FROM JUDGMENT
First, we see that Ignorance is Not Bliss.
Paul writes …
1. IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS (v. 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.)
Paul’s statement here in verse 12 answers a number of common questions about Christianity.
For one, it answers the question “Do those who have never heard the Law get a free pass to salvation?” This is the question of those in far off lands. The deserted island scenario. They have not heard the Law. Are they therefore innocent? This question is one of the most frequent brought up against Christianity and the Gospel. Is the person in a far off land who has never heard of God’s law, is that person free from God’s judgment?
Christianity, however, is exclusivisitic. That is, the Bible teaches that ONLY those who have faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. None other. And so the world cries, “that is not fair.” It is these same people who cry “not fair” that themselves do not avail themselves of the Grace of God. We’ll see later in our passage today why it is fair that God condemns those who have never even heard the Gospel. The reason is that even though they have not received the written law of God, they know of a certain amount of law naturally, and so stand condemned for not obeying it.
But to the question. “Do those who have never heard the Law get a free pass to salvation?”
Paul says “for all who have sinned WITHOUT THE LAW will also perish without the law.” That is, those who have not received the verbal or written law of God still will receive the consequences of breaking the law. They will perish. Ignorance of the law does not give them a pass. Ignorance is not bliss.
Paul’s statement in verse 12 also answers the question “Is there an age of accountability under which children get a free pass to salvation?” Some churches teach this idea – that children under a certain age are not accountable to God for their sins, and that if they die before this age of accountability they are guaranteed salvation.
The Bible however does not teach this doctrine, and it certainly does not provide an age (5?, 6?, 7?) of accountability. Rather, David, in Psalm 51:5 says “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” See, there is no age of accountability. David says he was sinful from birth! Even before birth! He was sinful from conception. There can be no age under which a person is free from the guilt of sin.
Paul says “for ALL who have sinned without the law with also perish without the law.” Ignorance of the law does not give anyone a pass. Ignorance is not bliss.
Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is not a second path to salvation. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. The ONLY way is Christ. You must believe in him, not merely NOT REJECT him. [Repeat]
It is sad to say that some in the church in which I grew up – the Lutheran Church – taught that salvation is the default, and it is only lost when we reject God. It is only some who hold this view, not all. An example of one who did believe that salvation is the default and is only lost when we reject God was one of the founders of the Lutheran Church here in America who wrote, “We preach faith, and any person not willfully resisting obtains faith.” This makes man’s choice the deciding factor. It is like Arminianism, but with a subtle shift. The Arminian argues that damnation is the default and man must choose God to be saved. Some Lutherans argue that faith is the default and man must simply chose not to reject God in order to be saved. We hold that both of these positions are in error, for it (salvation) is not of man’s will (neither dependent on man’s accepting nor rejecting of God) but salvation is of God’s will, fully dependent on God to give us faith as a gift, as we sinners cannot come to faith on our own. All men are willfully resisting and need the grace of God to be regnerated.
How would you feel if your spouse, or your parent, or your child merely did not reject you? Do you not desire that they POSITIVELY love you? Is God satisfied that I do not actively protest against him? Or does He desire that I actually have a relationship of prayer and reading his Word? To ask these questions is to answer them – you must believe in Christ, not merely NOT REJECT HIM.
These two questions we looked at – the deserted island scenario, and the age of accountability for children – if we were to answer these two questions in the opposite way, we would come to some strange conclusions. If ignorance is bliss, then we would stop sending missionaries overseas. For in preaching to the unreached we’d be risking that they learn the law and therefore run the risk of them being guilty of it. And if children were to have an “age of accountability” one might conclude that ending a child’s life before he comes to know of the law would be doing him a favor – ensuring that he gains entrance to heaven. But certainly the Bible commands us to do evangelism, and certainly the Bible commands us not to murder. So much for ignorance.
Since ignorance is not a path to salvation, we must teach our children God’s word. In fact, one of the few things the Bible explicitly says about the parent-child relationship is that parents must teach their children the Scriptures. For example, in Proverbs 22:6 – “train up a child in the way he should go.” and in Ephesians 6:4 – “Father’s do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
And since ignorance is not a path to salvation, we must preach the word of God and we must teach and evangelize the world. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching is a critical part of evangelism because ignorance is not bliss.
We must raise up our children in knowledge of the Lord. And we must go out into the world and preach the good news of God. Both of these are necessary because, as Paul contends in verse 12, ignorance is not bliss.
2. HEARING IS NOT BLISS (v. 13)
So then, is hearing the Law bliss? That is, is having been preached to sufficient for salvation? Or is having once or twice or hundred times read the Bible sufficient for salvation?
Just as Paul concludes that ignorance is not bliss, so he concludes that hearing is not bliss either.
He writes in verse 13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”
So neither not hearing the law, nor hearing the law is salvific! Whether a person sinned in ignorance of the law or sinned while knowing the law, he is still a sinner.
Just as Paul was saying that the Jews were not saved merely because they had the law, so we must say that we are not saved merely by attending church, or merely because we heard a sermon, not merely because we have been baptized. Hearing is not bliss.
What good is it if you never get beyond hearing the law, and never do the law itself?
Hearing the Word of God is the not the end goal. The Word is preached so that we may have faith and with faith go out and do the things of the law.
Paul so beautifully puts the importance of preaching later in his epistle to the Romans, in the 10th chapter. He writes, “How then will they call on him who they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
So even though hearing alone is not bliss, hearing does have an important role. We must hear the Word of Christ so that we may be led to faith in him. We do not preach merely for hearing sake. We preach so as to provide the content of belief. And we believe so that we may live in conformity with God’s law. “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”
Paul says, “The doers of the law will be justified” – This connects with earlier in chapter 2 where Paul wrote that “ He[God] will render to each one according to his works.” This, as we learned last week, is not in defense of work righteousness – that erroneous idea that we can appease God through our works, but rather it means that … 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. And so, neither being ignorant of the law nor hearing the law will bring salvation. Only Christ Jesus bring salvation by God’s Grace, through the gift of faith, and this faith and union with Christ are evidenced in the good works we do.
Our passage today continues on the theme Paul has developed in these first chapters – the fact that the Jews have the law does not make them any better off than the Gentiles. When Paul speaks of those “with the law” he is referring to the Jews. When he speaks of those “without the law” he is referring to the Gentiles who did not have the written law of God revealed to them. Paul has already warned that God is not a respecter of persons. He is not impressed that you are rich, or influential in the world, or from a certain family, or from a certain ethnicity. It is not any of these things that are correlated with salvation. But, rather, “the DOERS of the law will be justified.”
3. ALL ARE AWARE OF GOD’S LAW (v. 14-15)
So whether a person has heard the law or is ignorant of the law, all are under some law. But how can it be that those who have never heard the law are guilty? Paul explains that while some people may not know the specially revealed laws that God gave to the Israelites, all people by nature know of some law.
Paul writes, “14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
Thus John Calvin contends, “ignorance is in vain pretended as an excuse by the Gentiles, since they prove by their own deeds that they have some rule of righteousness.”
While the Israelites have (or had) the law of God written on stone in the 10 commandments, all people have the “work of the law written on their hearts.”
This, our translators have properly called “the conscience.” The conscience is that inner sense of right and wrong with which all men are equipped. Thus, when people – even those who do not know the law of God – when they sin, they feel ashamed, they feel guilty, they know they have done something wrong.
Because of this innate sense of right and wrong, there is no nation and no society completely devoid of laws. People all have some notion of justice.
And thus all men are guilty. Not because they have heard the law and ignored it, but because the law written on the heart was disobeyed.
The text tells us that the Gentiles — those who have never heard the law — they yet have some understanding of the difference between good and evil. Because of this an unbeliever might be honest in business, he might contribute to his society, and he might provide for his family. And unbelievers also have an understanding that evil brings consequences. This is understood in their conscience. They ignore God’s law, but they can never ignore their own conscience.
Surely you have experienced the guilt of the conscience. You’ve committed a sin, and it is not easy to get that out of your mind. It may be years or decades later, and you still think about that poor choice, that evil choice. Even though you’ve asked God for forgiveness, that sin is still finds its way back at times in your conscience.
The conscience can be a great tormentor when you have done wrong. This fact is probably displayed in no place better than the famous novel Crime and Punishment by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. In Crime and Punishment the protagonist, or main character, is an impoverished former student named Roskolnikov. Well, in order to solve his own financial troubles and to help out some other people as well, he convinces himself that it would be right to murder his evil pawnbroker, and take her valuables. Roskolnikov convinces himself, against his better judgment, that this this murder and theft will solve not only his problems, but will be a benefit to society, all of whom hate the evil pawnbroker. But after committing the murder and theft he finds himself in a far worse place – tormented by his conscience and looking over his shoulder at ever moment for the Police inspector he fears will catch up with him. Even though Roskolnikov does not believe in God, he feels guilty. Guilty to whom we may ask, but guilty nonetheless. Crime and Punishment thus displays what Paul said 1800 years earlier – that the work of the law is written on the heart, and the conscience bears witness with conflicting thoughts in the mind regarding what one has done. So, we see that even those who do not have the written law still have some law.
We might also note that Paul’s teaching displays the folly of moral relativism. Moral relativism is a significant prevailing trend in today’s world. It is the teaching that nothing is objectively right or wrong; that morality is in the eye of the beholder, a subjective judgment. Each person should, in this view, form their own opinion on what is right and wrong by they own feelings on the matter. Now, the proponents of this view, do contend that at least 1 thing is objectively right – their own view! Relativism is always stated absolutely.
Paul’s appeal to the conscience embarrasses the moral relativist, for they know that they do in fact hold certain things to be right and wrong. There is an objective law, it is what God determines it to be, and all men know at least some of this objective law because man was originally made in the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.
Paul appeals to the conscience because it is universal. Whether a man is a believer or an unbeliever, he has a conscience. This can be considered a “common ground” upon which a Christian can in evangelism and with the work of the Holy Spirit make an appeal to the unbeliever to believe the truth.
And this truth is that the guilt of the conscience evidences man’s knowledge of some law, and evidences man’s knowledge of the reality of the Creator, the one to whom they have guilt, and the one whom will one day judge all of mankind.
4. JESUS CHRIST IS THE ONLY ESCAPE FROM JUDGMENT (v. 16)
And so we return to our original question, “How can I escape the judgment of God?”
In the last sermon we saw that there will be a day of Judgment, and so we cannot ignore it.
Of this judgment, Paul says of “those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” “there will be wrath and fury.” “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek.”
Because ignorance is not bliss, and because hearing is not bliss, and because all are aware of God’s law, there is no escape from judgment but in Jesus Christ. [REPEAT]
Jesus Christ is our judge but he is also our savior. Paul writes, “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” And those who have faith in Jesus Christ are made by the Holy Spirit to do good works. And thus when the judgment comes, those good works done in us and through us give evidence of our renewed status, our reborn nature, our being elect in Christ.
The only safety is faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the only escape from Judgment. We cannot hope for salvation outside of Christ. Ignorance is not bliss, and ignoring what we hear from God’s word does not lead to bliss either.
So you may ask, “WHAT AM I DO TO?”
Because ignorance is not bliss, it is important that you read the Bible yourself, that you teach your children the Bible, and that you find ways to reach the world with the Gospel – including praying for and supporting missions. And because hearing the message alone does not make one a Christian, you are to evidence your faith by good deeds, showing that Word of God has renewed your life. But, more than anything else, put your faith and hope in Jesus Christ, for it is in Him alone, and nowhere else that there is salvation.
The greatest thing about this great salvation in Christ, this good news of the Gospel, is that salvation is a free gift of God. Because we are sinners, sinning against the Law of God, and can do nothing of our own to merit salvation, God saw it fit to give us salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. So that it is not something we do, but something that God does, so that He deserves all the glory, and honor, and praise.
So let us not be ignorant, for it is in hearing the word of God that we come to faith in Christ. And let us not only hear the things of God, but let us do those things as well. And in doing these things we evidence God’s salvation in us and thank Him for Jesus Christ bringing us an escape from Judgment.
Sermon on Romans 2:12-16 – The Only Escape From Judgment