Sermon on Romans 2:1-11, preached on Sunday, 4 Nov 2018.
Sermon Recording: Click HERE to Listen
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 138:1-8 / (NT) Romans 2:1-11
I. All have no excuse
II. Grace always for all men
III. In patience continue in grace
I’d like to begin by mentioning of David, the human author of Ps. 138, because his heart expressed in these words direct us to the message for us today. David is truly emotional in this psalm. In v. 1, he says, “I give You thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.” In v. 2, he bows down toward God’s holy temple and gives thanks to Him. His heart is filled with joy because of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. And his already joyful heart quickly overflows with wonder and awe of God as expressed in vs. 7 and to the end of the psalm. He says that God who is his rescuer preserves his life. Then he concludes in v. 8 with a careful and sincere petition to God, saying, “Do not forsake the work of Your hand,” meaning that God may not forsake him, but preserve him.
But, wait a second. Wasn’t David a godly man? Wasn’t he alright and righteous before God by being faithful to Him? Then, why did he conclude his psalm, asking the Lord to not forsake him but continue guiding and preserving him? Was there any untold side of David? By the way, isn’t this collection of psalms the songs and prayers Israel as the OT church offered to God rather than David’s personal memoir? Then, why is David’s prayer for God’s mercy included in this collection, representing the song and prayer of the OT church to the Lord? Was there a possibility for God to abandon, forsake His Church and David? No! Then, what was the reason for David’s such a petition to God as this?
The answer is this – every human being is sinful before God, thus, in need of God’s mercy. David petitioned for his preservation because he needed God’s grace always. Hearing this, you might respond and say, ‘Here we go again; another sermon for the sinfulness of all men on earth and the due punishment for their sins – death and eternal damnation in hell. I know this.’ Well, my friends, it is a truly well-taught and understood truth of the Bible. But, that is exactly why Paul wrote this passage in his letter to the Roman Christians. Many people in Paul’s time and of our time as well know too well about this truth of man’s sinfulness. But, there is an important point people must hear and firmly grasp. Otherwise, pointing out all men’s sinfulness becomes purposeless. That is, no one on earth is able to claim his/her righteousness before God, thus, can say he/she needs God’s mercy no more. In other words, all people – including all saved Christians – need God’s saving grace every moment of their life. Without understanding this truth, David’s prayer for the Lord’s mercy to preserve him cannot be understood. David was far advanced than any of us in being righteous before the eyes of God, but he sought his Saviour’s mercy, saying, “Do not forsake the work of Your hands” (that is in me and all Your saved children, so please preserve us all).
Although all men on earth need God’s grace, today I’d like to focus on Christians, God’s saved children, only. Lord willing, I’ll deal with the unbelievers’ need for God’s grace next week. So, today’s message is all Christians need God’s grace always. By God’s grace, we may, at the end of this sermon, be able to see why David concluded his psalm with a petition for the Lord’s mercy, and why we must join David and multitude others and seek the Lord’s grace daily.
I. ALL HAVE NO EXCUSE
In order to do this, let me begin with this point, ‘A challenge to all evaders of the ‘No Excuse’ indictment.’ What I mean by ‘No Excuse’ indictment is this. Since our first ancestor Adam, all men are sinful. We heard about it last Sunday. So, the Apostle Paul being inspired by the Holy Spirit says in v. 1 of our text passage, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you.” Yet, here in this verse, the apostle specifies ‘you’ as someone who judges. He means, a hypothetical person who judges others but do not examine himself is also charged as guilty and sinful, thus, has no excuse. People like this hypothetical person to whom Paul speaks are evaders of the ‘no excuse’ indictment. All sinners and these evaders alike have no excuse; all are sinful. This is a serious challenge to all evaders.
When the universal sinfulness is declared, there are always some people who claim their acquittal or immunity from this accusation. Based on their claim for pardon, they judge others who are in sin. In Paul’s time, many Jews who knew God’s law were those people. A typical example is the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable recorded in Lk. 18 who prayed at the temple, thanking God for keeping him unlike other men like extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even unlike the tax collector who was also praying far off him, beating his breast. The challenge Paul delivers to that Pharisee and many others like him is this; ‘You have no excuse because you’re exactly like all other sinners you judge.’
Let’s pause for a second and consider what this challenge is all about. How come that Pharisee in Jesus’ parable or anyone who claims a pardon or acquittal, then, judges others are as sinful as all others, thus, have no excuse and deserve the same punishment as all others? The answer Paul delivers is this that they do the same things as the sinners they judge do. Judging others as sinful, they commit the exact same sins. We often see politicians do this, don’t we? The opposition party criticises the ruling party’s decisions and works. But when the opposition party becomes the ruling party, they often commit the same things. We don’t need many political commentators for noting such a hypocrisy. This is, in fact, not the area for politicians only. Rather, this is a specialty of all men and Christians are not exempt from this hypocrisy. Paul points out in this letter both the Jews and Christians. In other words, you and I and all Christians in the world are not free from this falsehood, sin. Though surprising it might be to any believer, this is true. You and I know what sin is, what judgment and punishment await all sinners, yet, claiming our immunity for that judgment, we commit sins just like all sinners in the world. And we judge others!
‘Wait a second,’ a Christian might ask and say, ‘What sins do I commit? I don’t commit any sin; I don’t. I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery, I don’t murder anyone, do I?’ Well, my dear friends, we do commit numerous sins; in fact, all sins everyone in the world commits! The Bible categorises these sins as ‘the works of the flesh’ and the works of the flesh are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like that! This list is from Gal. 5:19-21 and it says ‘things like that’ because there are many more sins like those.
Hearing this, a Christian might still be puzzled and say, ‘Wait! I don’t do any of them. How can you accuse me of such sins? Moreover, my former sins were all forgiven and I’m saved by repentance and faith, am I not?’ My dear friends in Jesus, you’d better remember our Lord Jesus’ definition of ‘sin’ as given in Mt. 5, the section known as the Beatitude. In v. 22 of Mt. 5, our Lord teaches us that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Moreover, the definition of adultery is given in v. 28 as a look at a woman or a man with lustful intent. Our Lord’s definition of sin is not just man’s outward execution of sins, but also internal conception of sinful ideas. This internal conception of sin has the same penalty as its outward behavioural execution. So, can anyone deny his/her sinfulness, despite his/her salvation through repentance and faith? No, none can do that. Our salvation doesn’t mean we’re sinless, pure. We ourselves know this is not the case because we commit sins every day, every moment, don’t we? We’re those people who are ‘liable’ to judgment because we hate our brothers, because we’re jealous of our sisters! And we do many more in terms of the works of the flesh.
I believe that you remember a story in the OT about David and Nathan the prophet in 2 Sam. 12. Nathan came to King David soon after his murder of an innocent man, Uriah, because of his wife, Bathsheba. Nathan told his king a story of a bad rich person who stole a poor man’s only ewe lamb. King David became furious and vowed to punish and kill that sordid sinner. Then, Nathan the prophet of God said to David, “You are the man!”
That is exactly what Paul is on here in the first a few verses of Rom. 2. This is a weighty and serious challenge for all evaders of ‘No Excuse’ indictment. It is known that all men are sinful, but to recognise our own sinfulness is not easy because we’re still experts of evasion of judgment and experts of giving excuses. We have no excuse for this charge of guilt.
II. GRACE ALWAYS FOR ALL MEN
This is why we need God’s grace always. In fact, this is why God promised that He would never leave us, never forsake us, but be near us always to the end. Moreover, He indwells us in His Spirit! In this sense, God’s grace is irresistible in saving sinners and the same grace of the Lord carries the saved sinners who are now God’s beloved children safely to the end of their journey, that is, heaven, then, later Christ’s eternal kingdom!
All saved Christians must understand that God’s grace alone leads us to our eternal home. Neither baptism, nor church membership, nor fervent religious observations like regular worship attendance or giving tithes and offerings or many other things like these can be anyone’s guaranteed ticket for heaven. I’m not denying the effects of all things we do in church; they’re in fact truly important for our life in God’s grace. What I mean is that every believer needs the Lord’s grace and by His grace alone anyone’s sins are forgiven, and her heart is renewed and his soul is nurtured. In God’s grace alone, all children of God are sustained and led heavenward.
It works exactly like the way parents rearing their children. Parents know what it means to raise children. They are naïve; they’re sometimes ‘animals’ – forgive me for this expression but I just want to emphasise the fact whom parents sometimes deal with. Experiencing it themselves, parents realise that they too were like them. But, children don’t think of themselves the same way their parents do. Children think that they grew up by themselves. They think that they learned from watching the sky day and night and grasped a knowledge; by observing the world around, they figured out the way of the world and even apprehended some secret things of the time and age. But, is that true? I don’t think so. They owe most, if not all, of their knowledge and experience and insight to their parents. I used to think in my youth that I learned all, but, having spent many years as a parent, I could see my folly of youth. I owe so many things to my parents and I still learn from them even so many years after my parents’ passing.
Our Heavenly Father leads us, guides us, nurtures us – in a word, rears us – in His grace! Our Lord Jesus prays to the Father on our behalf – in a word, He rears us – in His grace! Our Comforter the Holy Spirit nurses us day and night indwelling us – in a word, He rears us – in His grace! We owe our God all things of our beginning in faith – that is, justification – and our walk toward heaven – that is, our sanctification. No Christian is self-sustaining; God alone is our Helper. Heaven doesn’t and never helps those who help themselves! That’s a terrible lie! Instead, all who are carried by the gracious hands of the Lord fail not, but joyfully stand and move heavenward.
So, all men need God’s grace always! The unbelievers are desperately in need of God’s saving grace. For the believing Christians, God’s grace alone keeps them and preserves them. Without grace, Christians would never survive from the devil’s attack and temptations. But in grace alone do we find joy of following the Lord and serving Him! It is so delightful to remember that our God will not let our feet be moved, He who keeps us will not slumber nor sleep, but keep us always!
III. IN PATIENCE CONTINUE IN GRACE
There’s one last point we need to consider from our text passage, that is, a clear contrary portrayed between two groups of people. One is those who by patience in well-doing, seek for glory, honour and immortality, and the other is those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness. In other words, Christians who live by the Lord’s grace alone and the unbelievers who depend on their own feasts and live for their own bellies.
These groups are under a clear contrast between them, as stated from v. 6 onward to the end of the paragraph, that is, v. 11. For Christians, eternal life is guaranteed, but for the unbelievers, wrath and fury are reserved.
There’s a significant structural feature you might find interesting in these verses. [As you can see it on the screen], this section of vs. 6-11 is a cross-shaped configuration often called as chiasm. V. 6 begins with a statement of God’s nature and v. 11 repeats that in a different way – God will render to each one according to each one’s works, and He has no partiality. You see that? Vs. 7 and 10 say the same thing – that is, those who seek the Lord and worship Him will receive from the Lord His eternal life which is glory and honour and peace. Then, vs. 8 and 9 talk about the unbelievers who will face wrath and fury which is tribulation and distress.
This cross-shaped configuration is an interesting insight. But, someone might ask, ‘What’s the point? I know all these; the righteous believer will be in heaven and the unrighteous hater of God will end up in hell. So, what? What’s the point of this configuration? Nothing’s new, is it?’ Well, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you need to see how these two groups are portrayed here in this configuration.
First of all, they are described as two groups of people that show a directional persistence. I mean, Christians are distinguished by their ‘patience in well-doing’ and ‘seeking’ for glory, honour and immortality – those attributes belong to God alone. In other words, they untiringly seek God’s grace and depend on it for their heavenward walk. If one fails on a day, he/she will again depend on God’s grace next day, and keep doing it in patience. The reward for depending on God’s grace alone is the crown of life which is glory, honour and peace. That’s the point of this section.
On the contrary, the unbelievers’ direction is completely opposite – they are ‘self-seeking’ or, as another translation renders, ‘selfishly ambitious’ and refuse to obey the truth, thus, end up with the works of flesh such as sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry and so on. Their destiny is wrath and fury, tribulation and distress. The point with these self-seeking people is that they are consistent in disobedience the way of sin.
This contrast between two groups is like two bank accounts. One is with increasing credit that accrue more interests to the account, whereas another is increasing but in red with more and ever-growing overdue interests, speeding up to its disastrous end.
So, what is our conclusion? We who are saved through repentance and faith in Jesus need God’s grace daily, every moment of our life. This is why David in Ps. 138 begins with thanks and praise to God and concludes with a prayer to God, seeking the Lord’s preservation of him in grace. This is, in fact, the only reason for Paul urging all Christians to rejoice in the Lord as in Phil. 4.
When you hear this urge of joy, your mind would immediately respond and say, ‘I know this; but it’s not that simple, is it? There are numerous things in my life to worry about. How can I rejoice always? That’s a hypothetical goal for Christians; for an average Christian like me, it’s simply a pie in the sky.’ My fellow Christians, don’t be and don’t remain in such a thought. That’s not a pie in the sky; it’s a simple thing as a piece of cake. Turn your eyes upward and see what this message about God’s grace is all about.
God’s ‘grace’ means God’s gift to us which we don’t deserve. This gift is not for the moment of our justification only; rather, this gift is given to us continuously, unceasingly. When we say ‘gift,’ we usually picture in our minds like a gift we receive on birthdays or on Christmas – a wrapped one, boxed one. But that’s not what God’s grace is; God’s grace is like a river that flows moment after moment, year after year, unceasingly. That’s why the Lord Jesus says in Jn. 7:38 that whoever believes in Him will have ‘rivers of living water’ ever flowing from his heart! So, what you can’t see as a joy in your life, what you cannot bear as joyful around your life will be turned to be a joy to you and that’s a gift from God, in other word, God’s grace to you! This is the Lord’s promise to you and me. You might still doubt, but, don’t be because trusting the Lord who is faithful and saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I will rejoice even with this difficult thing to bear in my life, trusting You because You’ll turn this to my joy!’
You know what? This is what v. 6 of our text passage points out, saying, “those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality.” What is promised for all who do this? God will give them eternal life which is their glory and honour and peace! Be patient, therefore, and be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, and know that in trusting the Lord your labour is not in vain! ***