SERMON FOR MAY 3, 1998 FROM ROMANS 2:1-11

 

          This week, we continue in Romans chapter two.  Last week, we noted that Paul in chapter two makes a shift in terms of who he is addressing.  In chapter one, he speaks of the wrath of God revealed against the godless heathen, those who are not religious people.  People who openly and honestly move God to the margins of their lives.  As he begins chapter two, he moves from the openly unrighteous to the covertly self righteous.  His audience in chapter two are those people who go to church who are likewise in danger of the wrath of God because they are not showing forth the righteousness of God.  Again, he is majoring on the wrath of God to show that the grace of God in Christ is necessary NOT only for the self styled heathen, but the person in the pew who has a purely external religion--who thinks they are a believer, who would claim with their dying breath that they were a Christian, but who are not relying on the life changing power of the gospel.  These people are long on profession and short on performance or fruit.  They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.  What they say and what they do not correlate.  To varying degrees, if that describes us (and it describes me) then we need to apply this text to our lives.

       Let’s read Romans 2:1-11.  Paul writes,  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. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?  5But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.

          As Paul addresses these people who are self deceived and think they are right with God--who think they stand shoulder to shoulder with Paul in condemning the sins of those “sinners” in chapter one he basically communicates only one truth.  It is this.  God is impartial in His judgment on sin, bringing wrath against both the godless heathen but also the religious self righteous.    The way Paul argues this section, he seems to respond to three lies which all self-deceived, self righteous people believe.  The degree to which we are self righteous is the degree to which we believe these lies.  The first lie he exposes and destroys we looked at from verses 1-3.  The first lie is that we can insulate ourselves from God’s judgment against our own sin, by condemning the sins of others.  We saw last week that judging other people, looking down our nose at them, be they “godless heathen” or the believer we work with is a “well known way of escaping detection of our own sins.” 

          If we are judging others, we are putting our self in the place of God.  And every time we put ourselves in the place of God, we are deceived into thinking that we are immune to God’s rebuke.  We said its as if we are sharing his judge’s bench with Him and if we are, in our self righteous imagination on the judge’s bench with God, we are not standing before Him as our judge.  It is impossible to be at one and the same time, (in our own minds) judge and judged--rebuker and rebuked--comdemner and condemned.  A person who lives with a strong sense of their own personal accountability to a God as their holy Judge will be very slow to judge others.  They know that they are disqualified from playing that role.  Whenever we put ourselves in the place of judging someone else, we are (in our minds) deceived into thinking that we are insulating ourselves from God’s righteous judgment.  This is the deception we believe ever time we place ourselves above someone else.  Paul exposes that deception in verses 1-3.

          As we move to verses 4, we see the second of the three lies Paul exposes and debunks. He writes in verse four, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness. tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”    Let’s dissect this lie as it plays out in the life of self-righteous Chuck or Sally.  Here’s the self righteous, externally religious person.  They are busy looking down their nose at other people, while they themselves are doing the same thing.  They may not be jumping into bed with other people, but their minds are filled with lust.  They may not be robbing banks, but they are fudging on their tax returns.  They may not be murdering people, but they feel justified in hating those who have hurt them.  They are not in any way shape or form, by God’s grace, fulfilling the law. 

          All the while they are living like this, their kids are getting good grades in school, their marriages, though perhaps superficial, are not breaking up.  They are sitting on church governing boards and they are reasonably successful materially.  As they look over the landscape of their life, blinded to their sin by their self righteousness, they think, “God is blessing me.  Why wouldn’t God bless me--He is honoring my righteousness with His blessing.”  That’s his or her skewed perspective from his self-righteous view point.  In truth, something very different is going on.  God is NOT blessing him in return for his self proclaimed piety.  What is happening is the same thing that happened to Israel in the Old Testament. 

        The people of God were falling down before idols and all that went with the sensuality of idol worship.  At the same time, they would go to the temple regularly, make their sacrifices, show up at the feasts, even giving their finances.  They were going through the motions of the worship rituals, but their hearts were far from God.The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips,  but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

          God graciously sent these self deceived people the prophets who boldly and repeatedly proclaimed that their lives were not pleasing to God and even warned that his judgment and his curse was coming on them if they did not get their hearts right with God.  At best, the people laughed at the prophets and at worst, they killed them.  They simply did not believe God was displeased with them because they were still, in their minds, being blessed by God.  A big reason why they were deceived is because they were still prospering in the promised land so when Isaiah or the other prophets tells them they are sinning and are in danger of the judgment of God, they respond by saying in some form, “Get a life.”  They attributed their material, familial and marital success to the blessing of God. In fact, God was simply being patient with them.  He was simply manifesting his incredible grace and mercy by not slamming them the moment they made a false move.

          But these people were self righteous and self deceived and those two ALWAYS go together.  They were reading God’s patience as indifference to their sin.  They were living under the lie which goes, “God must not be too put out with us for worshipping our idols, I mean, look at that last crop--its the best we’ve brought in years.  Look at this year’s flock of sheep, the herd looks better than ever.  And look at our family--my kids have given me five new grandchildren in 2 years.  God is blessing us.”    Paul explodes that lie in verse four by saying this:  When we do not taste the immediate negative consequences of sin, we are NOT experiencing God’s indifference, but His patience.  God’s judgment according to Isaiah are God’s “strange work.”  He doesn’t do it very often.  It is the exception, not the rule.  His standard operating procedure is to wait patiently and show forbearance on those who are in sin.  During this time, he warns us, but He generally does it gently.  He raises the appropriate red flags, he convicts us through messages from His word.  We woos us to come back to him in heartfelt repentance.  That is the way God operates most of the time.  He does not frequently bring his judgment.

          But listen, that in NO WAY means that He is indifferent to those areas of sin in our lives.  His patience does not in ANY WAY obscure or contradict His holiness.  When our long-suffering God finally does bring his judgment to bear, its not because He wakes up one day and decides that He really does hate our sin.  Listen, God hates our sin with an intense, holy hatred as much during those times when He is patiently waiting on us to come back, as He does when He finally does his strange work of judging and we taste his discipline.  There is no difference in how God feels about our sin whether He is patiently waiting on us to repent or He lowers the boom and allows us to taste the bitter consequences of our sin.  If we think otherwise, we are self deceived.

          One reason we believe this deception is because we mistakenly superimpose the reason we are patient onto God.  Let’s face it--much of the time we are most patient with things that don’t matter much to us.  If we are not avid newspaper readers, we can be patient with a paper boy who delivers the paper two hours late every morning.  Our patience or lack of patience is often tied to our passion about any given issue. If the television goes on the blink during Wimbleton and we hate tennis, we might very well congratulate ourselves on our patience in waiting for the set to be fixed. But if we love college basketball, how patient are we when the television goes out during the final four? 

          We tend to be most patient (because it is a patience of the flesh, not the Spirit) with things that don’t matter much and we assume God’s patience works the same way.  It doesn’t.  God is patient NOT because He is indifferent about something.  God cares about EVERYTHING in our lives.  God is patient because...He IS patient.  Its part of His essential nature to be patient.  And just because He is patiently waiting for us to repent doesn’t mean his holy anger is not burning intensely at our sin in the MIDST of His patience with us.  Its easy for us to think that God is only angry at our sin when we are suffering his judgment--his discipline. Then we may feel bad about it as He decisively and openly acts to discipline us.  But God is just as angry at the sin during the long months, perhaps years of His patient waiting as He is in the moments of chastisement because He is holy ALL the time, not simply during those rare times of judgment.  To think or feel differently is to be self-deceived.

          That’s what Paul means in verse four when he says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.”  Paul says, when we are in unrepentant sin and believe the lie that God is blessing us because we are not tasting his judgment, we are “showing contempt for God’s goodness.”  The word the NIV translates “showing contempt” is more literally “thinking lightly.”  A good contemporary translation of the idea is, “You are failing to perceive it correctly.”  You have missed the boat in your self righteous self deception.  God is showing His kindness and forbearance and patience because He is kind and forbearing and patient, NOT because He is blessing our lives which may be loaded with sin and compromise.  In actuality, He is waiting for us to fall on our face in repentance. God wants to bring repentance in us through His kindness, with a lump of sugar (so to speak) rather than with His rod.  To the tender in heart who is sinning, when they see the tremendous blessings of God and see that in response to these blessings they are rebelling against God, the very fact that God in His grace continues to bless them will bring a healthy shame and repentance. 

          Herein we see another lie which also always accompanies self righteousness.  The self righteous person is a legalist.  They may decry legalism--they may with every breath preach against it, but they are legalists because deep down in their hearts they believe the reason God blesses them is because they are doing something right.  They are going to church, they are in leadership--they don’t go down to the bar, they don’t cuss, they don’t smoke, etc...  But they are legalists because they tie God’s goodness to them to what they are DOING.  When something good happens to them, their first response is to try to figure out what they did which would prompt God to bless them.

          Their child excels in school, they get a big raise or a better job.  In response, they strain their brain trying to figure out what they must have done to move God to do that for them.  They tie their performance to God’s display of His goodness.  Look, we must all understand one thing.  If we are experiencing God’s goodness, His blessing, we must NEVER try to look around for the compelling reason He is blessing us.  The overwhelming reason we experience God’s goodness is because God is good. “He causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”  The fundamental reason we experience God’s blessing is because He is good. God is in debt to no man.  He owes us nothing for our imperfect obedience.  He is not compelled by anything we do. He is not obligated by any good deed.  We earn NOTHING from God.  Its ALL grace, ALL the time.

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