Sermon on Romans 2:12-16, preached on Sunday, 11 Nov 2018.
Sermon Recording: Click HERE to Listen
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 14:1-7 / (NT) Romans 2:12-16
I. The judgment for all people
II. The judgment day
III. The Judge
I’m going to deliver a message that is not popular with our generation. I’m going to open this passage and preach on judgment and the wrath of God which is the result of sin. From the world’s opinion, this message will offend and drive people away. But, from the Bible’s viewpoint, preaching on sin, judgment and God’s wrath is the ‘gospel,’ good news – more specifically, the beginning and opening up of the good news of Jesus’ saving grace.
It is like a medical doctor’s diagnosis of illness. ‘You have cancer,’ if your doctor says, is it a death sentence? It might be; and, in many cases, it is. But, on the other hand, that’s good news to patient because he may know the source of his trouble and is now able to seek a necessary treatment. Without diagnosis, there’s no treatment; without the message of sin, thus, the impending judgment, there would be neither realisation of man’s fatal status, nor search for treatment or salvation. So, this message on judgment is not only necessary, but also mandatory for everyone’s salvation.
So, the ears and hearts that can hear a message on sin and judgment are, in fact, blessed. And a heart that seeks Jesus for His saving grace is eternally blessed. And every heart that joyfully waits for the coming of God’s judgment by the Lord Jesus will receive the unfading crown of glory as 1 Pet. 5:4 teaches. So, let us hear and gladly receive this message on the judgment and the Judge.
I. THE JUDGMENT FOR ALL PEOPLE
God’s judgment is for all people regardless of ethnicity, language or gender. Everyone in humanity will be judged. This might be distressful news to some people because universal judgment means universal sinfulness and there’s no escape from it. To those people who see man as intrinsically good or ethically innocent, this news would be a disaster. Some preachers like the one I introduced earlier would reject such a distressful message as judgment. However, regardless of some people’s rejection, the message we hear from the Bible, the Word of God given to us, is clear – v. 12 says, “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.” This message on judgment began from 1:18, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Rom. 2:11 tells us that God shows no partiality, meaning that His wrath and judgment is upon all men and women. Standing before the Lord who is the Judge, everyone will be accountable for his/her deeds, actions, words and thoughts. None will be exempted, nor escape from it.
One thing we need to know and never misunderstand this passage from vs. 12-16 is that this passage is not about man’s justification and, through justification, salvation. No, this passage is not about sinner’s justification. Rather, this section talks only about judgment for all mankind. Talking about judgment, these verses explain man’s destiny. Like rivers and streams that flow and reach the sea, like the sun that rises from the east runs to disappear over the horizon in the west. In this directional procession, the focus is not on how or at what hour of the day the sun gets out of thunderstorm clouds; the focus is on the fact that the waters run across the expanse of land and reaches its destiny, the sea. That is the focus of this section. So, no one can reject what this section is about because truly all people die, then, all will be at the final judgment!
But, how foolish men are! By human nature, no one wants to know or talk about it. People bury their heads in the sand whenever this topic is mentioned. Jesus our Lord portrays this foolishness of man in His parable of the rich fool in Lk. 12. A rich man harvested plentifully and stored up a great wealth in his storehouse. Then he thought, ‘Now, I will relax, eat and drink, enjoy my life!’ But, he surely is one of the multitudes who proceed toward the end, that is, judgment. Neither denying nor rejecting nor detesting it will change anything of this truth.
Mentioning this judgement, the Apostle Paul talks about two groups of people in the world. One with the law of God – that is, the word of God – and the other without it. In Paul’s time, like the OT times, this distinction was made between Jews and non-Jews, that is, Gentiles. But in our time, we could say people within church and people without church, or more specifically, those whose names are recorded in church membership roll and others whose names are not included in that roll. But, do not be confused by this division because no division among men gives any immunity to any group. Instead, all are perfectly equal before this universal judgment.
The reason for the apostle’s mentioning of this division is to disprove some people’s false claim for their assurance of salvation. For example, the Jews of Paul’s time generally thought that they were God’s chosen, thus, their salvation was assured. They also thought that the non-Jews, i.e., Gentiles, were destined to perish. Their such confidence was based on their possession of God’s law handed down to them since the time of Moses. Possession of God’s law was to their eyes the immovable evidence of their eternally assured salvation. But that was a false claim. Possession of God’s law, God’s word, does not save a person. Likewise, becoming a Communicant member of a church doesn’t save a person. Sitting within the walls of a church on a Sunday doesn’t save a soul, but your heart’s confession and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ saves! Our submission to the gospel of Christ brings to each one’s life joy in worship, church membership, mutual fellowship and service of love.
So, this division between Jews and Gentiles is to defeat any false assumption in terms of salvation. The point is that if anyone claims to have God’s law, that person will be judged by that law, and for another who doesn’t have the law, he/she will perish without the law! In this, God has no partiality and there will be a universal judgment!
II. THE JUDGMENT DAY
The next point we need to think about is the judgment day. It is “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” as 2:5 says. This judgment day is surely coming in two stages for everyone. One is individual and the other is the universal stage. At the end of each one’s earthly life, people die and that’s the judgment each person faces. Then, there’s a day set for all mankind to stand before the Judge and face His final judgement.
Again, how foolish men are because we not only like to dismiss, but also crave to reject the truth that is so evident that any sane heart could never deny, that is, each one will face the day of judgment! How true it is that we are exactly like that rich fool in Jesus’ parable! People dismiss this truth about the end, the judgment day.
Quite a number of Bible verses need to be read in this light, otherwise their true meaning would be blurred, if not completely hidden, to our eyes. A couple of typical examples are found in Hebrews. Heb. 3:7, 8 say this: “Today, if you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Also, 3:12-13 say, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The day one’s breath is still in him is ‘today’ for him and that day could be the last day. So, he must regard ‘today’ as his last chance for hearing the Saviour’s voice and respond to His call. Individual’s judgment day cannot be dismissed or rejected. I read a quote one day and that quote said, ‘Every day is a gift from God and that’s why it’s called the present.’ How true it is.
Also, there will be the universal judgment day. This day will be the day of Jesus’ return to earth. On this day, all men and women ever existed on earth will face the righteous God and each one will hear the Lord’s final declaration. Some will be led into eternal rest in the Lord’s kingdom and the others will be sent to hell for eternal damnation.
This day will be, as v. 16 points out, the day God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. ‘The secrets of men’ means everything that is hidden in individual’s hearts, and every man’s hidden things will be openly revealed. Don’t misunderstand this; this verse doesn’t mean everyone’s hidden secrets will be safely hidden and stored being unnoticed until that day. No, that’s not what this means. God knows what’s in man’s heart and nothing is hidden before His eyes. This verse means that God’s judgment declared for all secrets of men will finally be confirmed on the judgment day.
This notion of judging every man’s secrets is not a light matter. Rather, it’s a heavy and serious thing. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, renowned Welsh Protestant minister of the 20th C, commented on this notion in these words: ‘We shall not only be judged according to our actions, we shall be judged according to everything that is true of us. … This is a terrifying thought, but it is here. We shall be judged not only by our deeds and actions, but, as the Lord Himself said, by ‘every idle word’ that we shall ever have spoken, and not only that, but by every thought, by every imagination, by everything that we have ever harboured or fostered or fondled in mind and in heart or imagination! That is the teaching of Scripture – the secrets of men!’ In this comment, Lloyd-Jones points out a verse from Mt. 12 where Jesus spoke this: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless [or ‘idle’] word they speak.”
So, the further anyone dismisses this inevitable judgment, the more appalling his approach to it will be. But, the opposite will be incomparably pleasant both now and eternity. If one hears about this inevitable judgment and realises his dreadful situation, then, seeks the Lord and hears His voice for calling sinners to repentance and faith, he will be saved. So, in this sense, this message about the judgment day is good news. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says in v. 16 that this is the ‘gospel’ he delivers.
III. THE JUDGE
Let me elaborate on the judgment ‘by the Lord Jesus.’ He will be the Judge on that day. This is our last point, that is, Jesus is the Judge. V. 16 says, “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Our Lord Jesus told us in Jn. 5:22 that the Father had given Him all judgment, and in Jn. 5:27 that He has authority to execute judgment. He will surely sit on the judgment seat on the day of judgment.
This is why all true followers of Jesus eagerly wait for that day of judgment! Having Jesus Christ as the Judge is the greatest joy and comfort for us. But, for others who deny Jesus, it will surely be a doomsday. For us Christians who are born again by grace through repentance and faith, Jesus is our joy because He is the One who paid our penalty for sin, thus, freed us from judgment. But for the unbelievers, Jesus is the One they have constantly rejected and hated by their rejection, thus, His sitting on the judgment seat will be their doom!
This is the blessing of the Lord for all who truly believe in Him and live for Him. Knowing Jesus who is the Judge, there’s no fear of the coming judgment in the believing hearts where Christ’s Spirit indwells. Instead, it will be a great wonder and gladness for us to see Him with our own eyes and meet Him personally, will it not? Try to picture that day in your mind. Everyone will be there – from Adam and Eve to the very last person in humanity. There’ll be angels and heavenly hosts with trumpets and harps, singing glorious praises to Jesus. The Father’s glory will shine all things in heaven and on earth – the whole universe will be filled with the light of His glory. Then, Jesus we dearly love because He loved us first and gave His life for us will sit on the judgment seat. Before we know Him, He knows us – each one of us by name – because we’re purchased and cleansed by His blood, clothed with His righteousness! Moreover, He is not ashamed to call us brothers! He will be sitting on that judgment seat, smiling brightly at us. And He will invite us into His kingdom! What a joy this will be, my dear fellow heirs of God’s eternal kingdom!
The conclusion is, therefore, clear. The message on judgment is good news to all people because it shines a light to everyone’s heart to reveal how hopeless men are and how gracious the Lord is and how perfect His salvation will be. So, brothers and sisters in Jesus, let us encourage each other with this good news of Christ our Lord that He has already taken the judgment we deserve and, by faith in Him, we now look forward to meeting Him our Lord and Saviour on the last day! In fact, all things of our faith – such as creation, justice, law, salvation and atonement – reach their climax in the divine judgment of the last day.
Let us also share with all people around us with this fact that the Lord delays the final day of judgment for them to come to repentance by faith in Jesus. ***