Chosen Ones Needing Grace

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Romans 2:1-19

Welcome, friends, to this third in our series on the heart of the Christian faith, messages from the first eight chapters of the letter to the Romans. We’ve thought about the marvelous effects of this letter in the history of God’s people—transformed lives and renewal of the church. At the center of Romans is the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation. Paul is not ashamed of it, and feels a great obligation to preach it.

Last week we thought about “what’s wrong with the world.” We discovered that all the evils start when we suppress whatever knowledge of God we have, and fail to give him honor and thanks. Not worshiping God, we descend to the worship of idols and to all manner of evil in heart and life. God lets us go on this path so that in our mess and brokenness we will seek him. We are a lost, stumbling people – without excuse. What we saw last week about our sin is true of every one of us. We may not have outwardly committed all the evils described, but the seeds of them are in every human heart.

Now for today our topic is: “Chosen People Needing Grace.” We know from this letter that the church in Rome during the first century included both Jewish and Gentile believers. Paul is aware that the Jewish members of the congregation have long had a negative attitude against non-Jews (Gentiles). Paul knows that what he has written in the first chapter may have confirmed that impression. Jewish listeners might have been saying to themselves, “Yes, that’s what these Gentiles are like.” Because they as Jews have been given God’s Old Testament – the Law, the prophets, and the writings, they might have felt a definite sense of superiority over ignorant Gentiles. Jews felt, “Thank God, I’m not one of those dumb people. We have God’s law!”

The Peril of Passing Judgment on Others

Paul seems to be anticipating such a reaction from Jews when he writes chapter 2. Listen to these words from it:

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. . . . You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (vv. 1, 23-24)

The Apostle Paul will not let his Jewish brothers and sisters get away with any feelings of superiority or self-righteousness. He is saying the Gentile people are inexcusable for suppressing the knowledge of God in creation, the Jews are without excuse when they pass judgment on Gentiles. Why are they not excused? Paul is echoing here the words of Jesus. Do you remember how in the Sermon on the Mount he says,

Judge not that you be not judged, for with what judgment you judge you shall be judged.” And he says, “Why do you try to take out the speck out of your brother’s eye when a beam, a log, is in your own eye?

Matthew 7:1-3

What Jesus is saying and what Paul is echoing here is that when we pass judgment on others we bring down condemnation on ourselves. When we want to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye, we show that we have a log in our own! Let’s always keep that in mind, friends. When we are highly critical of others, we are often guilty of the very wrongs we condemn in them. As they say, “it takes one to know one.”

Why do we criticize someone who always tries to be the life of the party? Because we’d like to be! Why do the other disciples get angry with James and John when they ask for the chief seats in the kingdom? Maybe they thought those seats should belong to them. As someone said recently, “When I point the finger at someone else, I always have three fingers pointing back at me, and a thumb pointing toward God who sees it all.”

So Paul says to his Jewish countrymen (he’s one of them), “If you are sneering at the Gentiles, you are in real trouble because you are doing the same things, living the same way.” Think of how we criticize the corruptions of present-day American culture but still often show the same shallowness, materialism, and divorce rate that unbelievers around us show.

So watch out when you’re tempted to pass judgment, says Paul. You’ll be showing hypocrisy and inviting judgment on yourselves. When you say that these other sinners deserve condemnation, you are calling down on yourself the same judgment. Do we truly think we will escape? We know that is wrong. We condemn something in others and do the same things ourselves. That hypocrisy makes us doubly guilty. In God’s eyes we are worse than those we criticize.

But in all of this, judgment doesn’t fall on us right away, so we often feel secure. But God’s patience and mercy does not mean that God approves of our judgmental spirit. It only shows that he is graciously giving us time to repent.

What Paul is emphasizing here is that God shows no partiality. You don’t get special treatment because you are a Jew, or because you were brought up in a Christian home. If you do nothing but good you’ll be rewarded, but if you’re self-seeking and self-righteous, you’ll face a fearful judgment. We’ll be repaid according to our deeds. God plays no favorites.

Jews and Gentiles Are the Same

Paul is speaking both to Jews and Gentiles in this chapter. The Jews have the law, the revelation of God and his will. The Gentiles don’t. If the Gentiles, without the Law, go on sinning, they will perish. If the Jews, who have the Law, go on sinning, they will be judged by the Law. The vital point here is that it’s not having a Bible in your house that makes the difference or reading it. It is when you do what God wants.

In the Day of Judgment God will judge our actions, words, motives, even secret thoughts. Imagine that!

Profession of Faith Without Performance in Action

Now listen as Paul pictures the attitude of Jewish people who are very much like he used to be. Remember how Paul was? He thought he understood everything. He was circumcised the eighth day, of the tribe of Benjamin, of the stock of Israel, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the Law a Pharisee, concerning zeal persecuting the church (Philippians 3:4-6). He thought he was everything he ought to be. He didn’t realize that he was actually opposing and persecuting the very God he claimed to worship.

So here Paul challenges other self-righteous Jews with the same inconsistency. They teach others but don’t do what they teach. They preach against stealing, adultery, and idolatry, but they do the very same things. What could be more tragic and wicked than that? When prominent ministers in the church of Jesus Christ live shamefully, what heartbreak that is! And here’s the greatest tragedy, when people who profess to know God live in disobedience, in public rebellion against his will, they cause the name of God to be blasphemed.

A Matter of the Heart

Now, where does this bring us, as we look back over chapters 1 and 2? Suppose that one of us, Jew or Gentile, would keep the whole Law perfectly, would obey and honor God always? What would our situation be? That would be a way to life, if we perfectly obeyed the Law. Those who patiently, consistently do good acts will get eternal life. Those who do good all the time will receive glory, honor, and peace. The problem is, Paul goes on to say, there are no such people. Just look ahead to chapter 3 and read about how no one measures up. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Paul is saying then, Gentiles who sin apart from the law will perish apart from the Law, and Jews who have the Law will be judged by the Law. So we’re all the same!

Do you see what the apostle is doing in these opening chapters? He’s clearing away all misunderstanding about being really good. He is sweeping away all our pretensions to be okay. He’s showing that we’ve all failed, that all confidence that we can earn God’s favor is an illusion. Every imagination that we can please God by our own effort is ridiculous.

And why would Paul, and God’s Spirit speaking through him, want to be so blunt? Not to demean us, to put us down, or discourage us, or destroy us. But so that we can see our true condition, our real need, so that we will be ready to receive his grace, his undeserved gift of forgiveness and a new heart. That is what the Good News is all about – not appearances, not claiming class or tribal advantage, but having a new heart. As long as you think you are not a sinner, you will have no interest in hearing about a Savior. As long as you think your heart, your inner life, is pure, you won’t care about the promise of a new heart – and a new life.

Everyone Needs God’s Grace

But when you recognize the truth about yourself, and acknowledge your failure and unworthiness, a wonderful promise awaits you. God will forgive all your sins and deal with you as though you had never sinned. And what’s more, by the gift of his Spirit, he will begin to transform you on the inside so that more and more you will become like Jesus. That’s what Paul calls grace – God’s totally undeserved kindness and mercy. It comes to us through Jesus Christ. That is what we’ll learn more about next week in chapter 3.

I hope that through what we’ve seen thus far, our hearts will be open and eager to receive God’s wonderful grace in Jesus Christ. God bless you!