With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 2:1-11:
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God (Rom. 2:1-11).
When I study this section of Romans I often think to myself, “I will surely be glad when we get to Romans 3:21.” Perhaps some of you who just read the above section are thinking the same thing. “Where is the good news you talk about in Romans?” Well, when you are dying of thirst, you really appreciate a cool, satisfying drink of water. This section is designed to create in us a thirst which cannot be satisfied by anything other than the water of life which Jesus offered to the Woman of Samaria.
Many of us grew up with the idea that our good works were really important for our right standing with God. In fact, in our Sabbath school classes, a record was taken each week:
How many of you studied your Sabbath School lesson seven times? How many pieces of literature did you give out last week? How many articles of food or clothing did you give away? How many hours of Christian help work did you do last week?
Each week as this report was given, I recall the many judgmental glances that were given to those who had little or nothing to report. I also remember the discussions we had as to what “study the lesson seven times” meant. Did it mean looking up every Bible reference listed in the Quarterly and reading the associated “Spirit of Prophecy” quotations which insured we reached the right conclusion? Or did it mean just glancing at each page and speed reading the main topics? How little could one do and still raise one’s hand, “I studied seven times”? In essence this whole activity was a breeding ground for judgmental legalism. Some of you probably think I am making up this scenario. Well, I am not. You just have not been around as long as I have! In one church I attended, during the time between Sabbath School and church there was a time dedicated to “missions”. In addition to the “mission reading” or “mission story”, the Sabbath School secretary read to the church the summary of the “good works” that had been reported in each Sabbath School class.
Whether or not the Jews had such a list I do not know, probably not. Yet we know from the Gospel records that there was a strong judgmental attitude that colored Jewish life at the time of Christ and the early church:
The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Lk. 18:11-12).
Paul addresses this section of Romans to “O man”. We know that he will address the Jews in verse 17, yet here it is unclear whether he has any specific audience in mind other than the judgmental person who is quick to condemn others. Most think Paul is addressing a wide audience comprised of gentiles, moralists, and specifically the Jews—yes, and those of us who are quick to condemn others who do not measure up to our standards.
Paul, the carful writer that he is, always ties one section to the next. He just finished describing what may be labeled as “the gross sins of immorality” outlined in the last part of Romans 1. He knows that some of his readers will be saying to themselves, “Well, I don’t do those things; therefore I don’t need to worry about all this sin stuff.” Not so, Paul says to the Romans—and to us as well—when we sit in judgment of others, often we may do the same things. In fact it is human nature to project onto others the very sins with which we struggle. When we pass judgment on others, we are downplaying God’s saving grace. We forget that it was God’s grace—His kindness, tolerance, and patience that led us to repentance. Therefore, we should show that same attitude toward other sinners with whom God can show kindness, tolerance, and patience so that they will come to repentance and be saved by His grace. By passing judgment on others we not only condemn ourselves but in actuality we show distain for God’s mercy and expose our own stubborn heart.
As in Romans 1 where Paul described the downward path of those who exchange the truth about God for a lie, so here Paul shows how in judging others we condemn ourselves and show our stubborn, unrepentant heart. In fact, by refusing to demonstrate to others the grace God has shown to us, we pile up God’s wrath upon ourselves. Basically, what Paul is communicating is that when we condemn others in a judgmental way, we are revealing that we have rejected the grace of God. In stubbornness we turned down grace; now we stand before the judgment of works. Not good!
Veses 6-11 often raise questions in our minds. At first reading they appear to be teaching a theology for works and not faith. However, this idea is not Paul’s thought. Rather, in this chapter he is laying down a solid foundation proving that all are under the condemnation of sin.
…who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life
I found the comment on this text by Leon Morris helpful.
He is speaking of an attitude, the attitude of those who seek certain qualities, not of those who keep certain laws or try to merit a certain reward. Their trust is in God, not in their own achievement. He refers to those whose lives are oriented in a certain way. Their minds not set on material prosperity or the like, nor on happiness, nor even on being religious. They are set on glory and honor and immortality, qualities which come from a close walk with God. The bent of their lives is towards heavenly things.
It is well established that immortality and eternal life are gifts that cannot be earned. No carnal, unsaved person will demonstrate these qualities. They are, in a sense, a standard too high for us to achieve.
but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
Here Paul probably has in mind the Jewish leaders who were selfishly ambitious to the extent they rejected their Messiah and the legalistic Jewish Christians who dogged his steps rejecting the simple gospel of God’s grace for another gospel which was really not a gospel at all. Over and over again, Paul comes to a central truth: exchanging the truth about God for a lie—as in Romans 1—leads to a depraved mind where people reap the consequences of their own choice. Here those who “do not obey the truth” will face “wrath and indignation”. In the next verse Paul shows how “every soul” will be caught up in sin.
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.
Judgment throughout Scripture is usually presented on the basis of works. Sometimes the focus of judgment is on salvation, at other times on rewards. Salvation itself, however, is offered as a gift, by faith in Christ, by the grace of God. If the above verse were the sum of Paul’s thought, it could easily be misunderstood. One could conclude that “everyone who does good” would be on his way to heaven. But Paul is not done yet, in the next chapter he will write:
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE (Rom. 3:12).
This passage demonstrates why it is so important to study the Bible in context. If one takes a “verse here” and a “verse there”, then that person has opened himself up to the error of “proof-texting” and is ready to be deceived by the cults.
In teaching on coming judgment on the basis of works, Paul, like Jesus, lays down a high standard one that no one can achieve except by the imputed righteousness of Christ. As Jesus said,
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48).
Often in Bible times, as today, judges were not impartial. Money, position, and political advantage often skewed their verdicts. Many times in the Old Testament we find injunctions in the law to treat people justly regardless of their social, economic or political standing.
You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly (Lev. 19:15).
Paul concludes our passage with a truth about the character of God which has far reaching applications, not only in our understanding of this passage in Romans, but upon the interpretation of many others.
For there is no partiality with God.
I do not believe that we as former Adventists can jettison the legalistic, judgmental framework we grew up in the moment we transition to a gospel-centered church. From the many visits and conversations Carolyn and I have had with former Adventists, we often see these judgmental attitudes expressed. We may “look down” on those who are vegan and are deathly afraid to eat meat. Sometimes we are quick to point out the error of those who say they “keep the Sabbath” but not according to biblical requirements, or even the standards set by Ellen White. While it may be helpful to teach biblical truth regarding the eating of meat and the laws of Sabbath observance, it is so easy for us to judge those who do not see things as we do.
Dear Father, help me overcome my natural tendency to look down on and judge those who do not measure up to the standards I set for myself. Help me to evaluate my own behavior in the light of who I am “in Christ” and to see others, not as they appear to me, but as clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Thank you Lord that you saved a sinner like me. Help me reach out with the same love and grace to those whom I meet and with whom I associate.
1Based upon my memories of many Sabbaths listening to these questions and always answering them thinking that there was so much more that I should have done.
2Eighty years and counting!
3Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 116, 117.