Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 3

Romans 2, from the start

We just demonstrated that if we approach Rom 2:14 starting with Rom 2:29, we find that Paul is not speaking of Gentiles who’ve never heard the gospel. Rather, he’s speaking of saved Gentiles whose hearts have been circumcised by the Spirit. It’s these who “obey the precepts of the law” because the Spirit has re-shaped their hearts to love God and their neighbors — thus fulfilling the law.

(Rom 13:10 ESV)  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

But we should take another run at Rom 2:14, this time from the start of the chapter, to be sure we get the same result.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man

What is the flow of Paul’s argument?

(Rom 2:1 ESV) Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

Paul’s theme sentence for this section includes the fearsome statement: “you condemn yourself.” This is not a message of hope for those without the gospel but condemnation deserved by every single one of us.

In short, because we all judge others and none of us meets the standards we impose on others, we all condemn ourselves. The moral law that is innate within us all reveals enough of God’s law to damn us.

O, man  — you who judge

(Rom 2:2-3 ESV)  2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.  3 Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God?

Again, it’s pretty hard to miss the condemnation Paul announces — not for failing to accept the preached gospel but for failing to live up to the standards we impose on others.

Or do you presume … ?

(Rom 2:4-5 ESV)  4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

In v. 4, Paul introduces a new thought: the kindness, forbearance, and patience of God, leading to repentance. But absent repentance, because of our “hard and impenitent heart” we will suffer condemnation.

God’s forbearance

The reference to God’s forbearance looks ahead to –

(Rom 3:23-25 ESV)  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

There was a time when God passed over sins without repentance.

The passage also anticipates –

(Rom 9:22-24 ESV) 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–  24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Who are these “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”? At least, the Gentiles. Compare Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill –

(Act 17:30-31 ESV)  30 “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

And his sermon at Lystra –

(Act 14:16 ESV) 6 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.

In short, the Gentiles deserved destruction for the reasons stated. It’s not that they didn’t have the Law of Moses or that they rejected it, but that they rejected God’s law as revealed in their moral natures.

Of course, Paul had just condemned the Gentiles in chapter 1 in even plainer terms –

(Rom 1:18-21 ESV)  18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Thus, he must explain to his Jewish readers why the Gentiles, who were far removed from God, are invited into the Kingdom. And the lesson begins with God’s patience and forbearance — and his call for repentance. God had been patient with the Gentiles in order to call them to repentance at the right time.

They merit damnation, but it pleases God to be patient and to give them the opportunity to turn to him.

The Jews, too

Paul is certainly speaking of the Gentiles’ deserving damnation at the end of chapter 1, but chapter 2 is actually a broader argument. Consider –

(Rom 2:1 ESV) Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

(Rom 2:3 ESV)  3 Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God?

The repeated “O man” (v 1 and v 3) repeats a phrase found in –

(Mic 6:6-8 ESV) 6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

This famous passage condemns the Jews for relying on their rituals and the Temple cult rather than justice, kindness, and humility with God. And isn’t Paul’s point also that the Jews condemn the Gentiles and yet cannot rely on their Temple rituals while they fail to be just, kind, and humble to those they judge so harshly!

That is, after all, why Paul soon says,

(Rom 2:21-24 ESV)  21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?  22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.  24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

This is the very same argument made in greater detail! Indeed, it could be argued that Paul is more concerned in these verses to condemn the Jews than the Gentiles. What he says is true of everyone, but the charge of hypocrisy seems particularly pointed to the Judaizing teachers who likely claim that the Jews enjoy some sort of superior moral standing before God.

(Rom 2:4-5 ESV) 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

That means that Paul is also saying that God has been patient with the Jews (not just the Gentiles), hoping for their penitence, and that indeed fits the narrative of the Scriptures — and sets up such later arguments as –

(Rom 9:26-28 ESV)  26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”  27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.”

In other words, Paul is saying that God delayed the coming of his Messiah to give the Jews more time to repent, but most will not repent. Judgment is coming. Jerusalem would soon be destroyed by Titus just as Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed it before.

Don’t forget that John the Baptist’s ministry was a cry for repentance. Jesus often preached in similar terms. It’s not just the Gentiles who needed to repent in faith.

(Jer 5:2-3 ESV)  2 Though they say, “As the LORD lives,” yet they swear falsely.  3 O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.

(Eze 18:30-32 ESV)  30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.  31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?  32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

With these thoughts in mind, the next passage fits very nicely –

God shows no partiality

(Rom 2:9-11 ESV)  9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,  10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.  11 For God shows no partiality.

Verse 9 reinforce the arguments made earlier — that Paul is condemning both Jews and Gentiles.

But v. 10 seems to suggest that some do good and so deserve immortality. Is it possible? Is there anyone who truly “does good”?

(Rom 7:18-19 ESV) 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Well, no. Is there another possibility?

(Rom 8:2-4 ESV)  2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Well, Paul says — much later in Romans – that Christians “walk … according to the Spirit” and so satisfy the “law of the Spirit of life”  so that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.”

Now, this has a double meaning, right? Christians are credited with righteousness. They are deemed righteous by the work of Jesus. But because they have the Spirit and walk with the Spirit, they in fact show the work of the Spirit in their lives — walking according to the Spirit.

Thus, those who have the Spirit are the ones who do good and who “obey the truth” and “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.”

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7 Responses to Faith That Works/Available Light: An Interpretation of Romans II, Part 3

  1. Alan says:

    Jay wrote:

    But v. 10 seems to suggest that some do good and so deserve immortality. Is it possible? Is there anyone who truly “does good”?

    Yes. In verse 10, “doing good” is referring back to what he described in verses 6-8:

    Rom 2:6 He will render to each one according to his works:
    Rom 2:7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
    Rom 2:8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

    A person can be patient (persistent) in well-doing. A person can seek glory and honor and immortality. The point is the persistence and the seeking. And yes, a person can do that. A person *must* do that if they expect to inherit eternal life.
    Jay also wrote:

    Thus, those who have the Spirit are the ones who do good and who “obey the truth” and “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.”

    The Spirit empowers us and enables us to “by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.” But that’s not an inevitable result. What if we choose not to do those things? Some who initially receive the Spirit will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some people grieve the Spirit. Some quench the spirit. Some who have tasted the heavenly gift turn and trample the Son of God under foot, and insult the Spirit of grace.

    If we want to inherit eternal life, we have to walk in step with the Spirit.

    Rom 8:12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
    Rom 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    So, again, how we walk is crucial. Walking in step with the Spirit means persistence in doing good and seeking God’s favor, and putting to death the deeds of the body. If instead we live according to the flesh — that is, walking like those around us who do not have the Spirit — we will die.

  2. Jerry says:

    I have not heard anyone on this blog argue that our works merit our salvation.

    I have not heard anyone on this blog argue that the child of God, who is saved by grace through faith, is free to disobey God.

    I have heard some argue that our freedom in Christ frees us to serve God.

    I have heard some argue against this freedom to serve concept and in favor of being under obligation to serve – where the obligation seems to be something other than the obligation of love.

    So it seems to me that whatever disagreements are expressed here boils down to the source of our obligation to serve. Is it a law similar to the Mosaic code, but different in details, or is it a law of grace that cleans our consciences so that we may serve the living God in the freedom that is in Christ by His Spirit?

    As for me, I opt for the second of these options as being much more in character with the gospel, the life and doctrine of Christ, and the arguments found in the epistles of the New Testament. Such is also in keeping with the prophets of the Old Covenant and the covenant promise God gave to Abraham.

  3. laymond says:

    The very same man who wrote this.
    In other words, if I feed the poor because I love them and because I want to honor God, that’s not a work because it wasn’t done to earn salvation. But if I feed the poor out of fear of damnation, shaking in fear that a failure to be good enough will send me straight to hell, then my motivation is selfish and not one of love for God and man — and I’m indeed trying to earn my way into heaven.

    Also wrote this.
    Thus, those who have the Spirit are the ones who do good and who “obey the truth” and “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality.”

    So why do we work ? Salvation, or glory and honor and immortality. And can anyone explain to me the difference

  4. aBasnar says:

    When works do affect our standing before God then it is hard to obey without knowing it will affect my standing; and it will always be in the back of my mind ehen I disobey that this will endanger my standing before God. Of course love is the best motive for everything, but fear is also a valid motive. It is naive to cancel that out.

    Once we become regenerated, love will enter the scene. But until love permeates every cell of our being, our motives will always be mixed. This does not invalidate obedience. Some commands are so obvious that any reasonable person sees the necessity of doing them. Some commands are so costly, that they can only be carried out in love. Until we come to the understanding that all we do, we do for the Lord (we serve the Lord, when we serve the poor; we obey the Lord, when we do our job in the factory; women submit to Christ when they submit to their husbands, …) we have to do all of this anyway, haven’t we? We might have to truggle with murmuring, with doubt, with resistance from within. Yet, we are not free from obedience.

    Christ does not say: “If you don’t do it out of love, you don’t have to do it.” Why? Disobedience and lawlessness is sin that condems us. Therefore fear and trembling are mentioned as a motivator as well. Like Kids who hardly follow their parents out of love (esp. when they are supposed to do something they utterly dislike or that interrupts their play time), but rather out of fear of some sort of punishment.

    Therefore I would not downplay obedience if it is done merely out of “fear of God”, since this is the beginning or source of wisdom. It has value, although we are not perfected as long as love is not at the heart of the matter. But this takes time and practice. Love will develop when obedience becomes costly, never when it is cheap and an easy play.

    Alexander

  5. John says:

    aBasnar,
    I can see your point…. up to a point. Many do have mixed motives before love becomes pedominate.

    BUT…how the good news of Christ is presented makes a huge difference as to how problematic these mixed motives become in a person’ life.

    Let’s face it. The CoC has a history of its different movements causing much mental anguish, to the point of individuals needing professional help. The Boston movement being the latest (as far as I know, since I am no longer in the CoC); but, before that, the legalistic factor that brought mental torment to many, myself being one.

    However, when the message to our neighbor is “You ARE a child God, and your salvation is being aware of and remembering that”, love seems to take root and grow fro the beginning.

  6. Alan says:

    Jerry wrote:

    I have not heard anyone on this blog argue that our works merit our salvation.

    I have not heard anyone on this blog argue that the child of God, who is saved by grace through faith, is free to disobey God.

    I think the differences are a matter or emphasis, particularly on matters like fear of God, warnings against sin, and call to obedience. As I hear it, some people think those things happen automatically if you just preach grace. Others think you need to preach those other topics strongly and regularly. I fall more into the second category.

    I don’t know the underlying cause of our differences. Maybe if we swapped congregations for a year or two, we’d understand what people on the other side are saying.

  7. aBasnar says:

    @ John

    I understand your point as well. To give you some background information: I started my spirituaö journey as an Evangelical with a similar Gospel presentation that you seem to favor. I’ve seen different results however: easy belivism, not taking God’s commands seriously, unconditional eternal security … spiritual lazyness. Not only around me but also within me.

    When I joined the remnant of the ICoC in Vienna it was a disillusioned group, many of them in desperate need for professional help, as you correctly observed. My wife and I both knew where we came from, and we also were very aware of where we don’t want to end up. Since then I strive to stay “in the middle of the road”. (the ICoC merged with the CoC in Vienna three years ago – a blessing for both groups BTW)

    It’s all about the presentation and correct understanding of the Gospel. To me the key factor is the King and the Kingdom. Understanding who Christ is, His authority as well as His Grace, leaves no room for even playing with the thought of disobedience. His mulitifaceted nature however leaves room for different levels of motivation. Fear the King in His power and at the same time be grateful for His Grace and Love! Bow your knees and kiss the Son with trembling lips (Psa 2:11-12), and at the same time: Do everything in love (1Co 13)!

    Staying in the middle of the road means: Give the right weight to each of these aspects according to how they are balanced out in Scripture. Don’t deny the edges, and don’t make it all edgy either! Don’t belittle Grace, and don’t make faith all pink and fuzzy either.

    I admit: It’s always a to and fro, a wobbling between seemingly contradicting passages. But that should keep us awake ;-)

    Alexander

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