32. Circumcision?

Meditations in Romans : 32 :  Circumcision?

Rom 2:25-27 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

Circumcision was a very Jewish thing. Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.” (Gen 17:9,10) This had been God’s command to Abraham. It was a rite through which every Jewish male went through a week after they had been born. It was a tangible reminder, if you like, of their relationship with the Lord. Thus in Paul’s day Jewish males could say, “We have the Law from God and we have been circumcised as a sign of our relationship with God.” These were things that made them special, different from the ungodly Gentiles – or so they thought.

And then along come Paul who pours cold water on their pride. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.” What! Yes, if you keep the Law and show your relationship is real with the Lord, then the marks of circumcision are genuine and meaningful, but of you don’t keep the Law, what is the point of the circumcision, because it is clear you don’t actually have a real relationship with God!

He presses home to point: If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?” Circumcision and keeping the Law are both signs of a relationship with God, and so if we find a Gentile who is keeping the things that the Law requires, then they are clearly someone with some ort of relationship with God and so, surely, that is as good as circumcision for them.

Then he smacks home the next point: The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.” i.e. the Gentile obeying God’s Law, even if he doesn’t have the outward signs in his body, will show you up, you who don’t keep the Law, despite the fact that you have the outward sign in your body. Your lawbreaking annuls the mark of circumcision.

Now if you are a Christian you may be wondering what this has to do with you. Christians do not have to be circumcised so what is the point of thinking about this? Put in its simplest of terms the subject above shows people who say they are one thing and have outward signs to prove it, but in reality it means little. The same can be true of Christians. I know we have been over similar ground before in these meditations but it is a vitally important issue. We can go to church on a Sunday – that is the outward sign – but in many other ways we show we do not have the spirit of Christ. If we judge others, look down on them, have pride, think badly of others, hold them at a distance and speak ill of them, we find ourselves in the same position as these Jews that Paul was addressing. We claim to be one thing and give some small religious sign of it, but in our lives generally the fruit is missing that would tell us we had a genuine relationship with the Lord.

The sad thing is that there are many good unbelievers in the world. Only yesterday I was told by one such man that he kept the Ten Commandments and that was his rule of life. He doesn’t realise that the first ones are about loving God. But there are many such people who are good but godless – and some of them are in churches on a Sunday morning! Being good, or being nice isn’t the criteria that God cares about; it is how we respond to His Son, Jesus. He doesn’t want us to just be nice; He wants us to be nice, good and godly, having a living relationship with Him whereby He is able to lead us, guide us, teach us and show us the way on a daily basis, as we allow Him to lead us by His Spirit. For us, “keeping the Law” has become “following the Spirit,” and that of course includes allowing Him to teach us through His word. Oh yes, these words of Paul in this part are very relevant!

31. Reputation

Meditations in Romans : 31 :  A Question of Reputation

Rom 2:22-24 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

One of the tragic things about the tidal wave of attacks from crusading atheists in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century in the West, is that although they purport to attack the existence of God, their ability to attack Him on the basis of Biblical doctrine is virtually non-existence. Instead their attacks are based on the behaviour and activities of those who purport to be the Christian Church, past and present. We give them a great deal of ammunition! It should not be! It seems that the history of Judaism and of Christianity both simply go to confirm the Bible’s teaching that man is sinful and gets it wrong – even when they are supposed to have a relationship with God!

Paul is challenging the Jews of Rome who rely upon their knowing the Law and apparently having some sort of relationship with the Lord.  He has been saying that it is not sufficient to know the Law in your head; you need to be obeying it, living it out.  Here he now gives two examples: You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s all very well to proclaim the Ten Commandments (e.g. “You shall not commit adultery – Ex 20:14) but actually if you commit adultery you are dishonouring God and are breaking the commandment. Simply knowing about the command is not enough! Stealing from Pagan temples was obviously a common occurrence. Believers might have justified such behaviour that it was only pagan temples they were taking from. Certainly later in history that happened and one assumes from Paul’s comment that it had probably already happened.

In these two things we see Paul’s charges against these almost-believing Jews to be summarised as  a) you fail to keep the commandments of the Law, and  b) your general behaviour in the world is questionable!  i.e. it’s not only your failure to keep the Law, it’s also your failure to live decently anyway.  As he goes on to say, the result of this is that they dishonour God.  They purport to be followers of God but their behaviour is just as bad as anyone else and so this demeans God in the eyes of the world.

In fact he then goes on to quote the Septuagint version of Isaiah: As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Our version of Isaiah 52:5 reads, “And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” A similar accusation was found in Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22)

In both cases, Israel’s behaviour was less that would be expected from those who claimed to follow a holy God. In both cases the world was mocking the Jews and deriding the name of the Lord because of the behaviour of the Jews. Such a thing should not have happened but it did.

Thus we say again, today the Christian community worldwide should not be providing fuel for the world to mock.  We more than any others should be living ethically correct lives; we should be showing an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and love to all around us. We more than others should be peacemakers: those who bring reconciliation, who speak only truth, who refrain from gossip, slander and speaking badly about others. We, surely, should be those who shy away from dubious business practices, away from greed and covetousness and taking advantage of others. We in our churches should, surely, seek to be simple in our worship and adoration of our Lord and avoid charges of excesses.

We, surely, should be bringers of the love of God with respect and gentleness and with honesty and integrity. We, surely, should be lights to the world, doing good things that bring glory to our Father in heaven (Mt 5:14-16). We, surely, should not be argumentative but gently persuasive. In us, surely, should be seen patience and perseverance. But how often do we fail!  How often does the name of the church or the image of the church be derided on TV?

How often is the image of men of the church portrayed in weakness and silliness? How often are people of the church portrayed as weird? We are different but that shouldn’t mean weird! We, more than any others, should be seen as ordinarily good, not freaky but good to be around!  Aren’t we called to be salt and doesn’t salt bring out flavour? Aren’t we those who should enhance the quality of the lives of our communities?  Or do we hide away in religious ghettos? These are questions that leaders of the Church, and we who form the Church, need to face and be honest about otherwise, like the Jews Paul was speaking about, we will continue to let the name of the Lord down! May it not be!

30. To the Jews

Meditations in Romans : 30 :  To the Jews

Rom 2:17-21 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

Paul’s letter to Rome is intriguing in that it is not clear about the state of the church there. When he wrote to the Corinthians he wrote, To the church of God in Corinth.” (1 Cor 1:2). Similarly when he wrote to the Galatians he wrote, “To the churches in Galatia.” (Gal 1:2). However, when he wrote to the Ephesians he wrote more generally, “To the saints in Ephesus.” (Eph 1:1) One wonders if the different designations indicate the level of maturity or state of being established in each case. Clearly in Corinth and in Galatia the churches were clearly established but perhaps when he wrote to Rome or Ephesus he was writing to a less definite body of Christians. Remember, when he wrote to Rome he simply addressed them as, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” (1:7). It would appear to be a young group of believers, possibly with not very clear beliefs yet, because of the way he is able to address them in this chapter. These first two chapters are really more about the bad news than the ‘Good News’, which is always a precursor to the Gospel.

It would appear that there are both Jew and Gentile ‘believers’ in Rome and here Paul addresses the religious Jews. He is aware that there is a Jewish cultural tendency to be superior about who they are, after all he is one himself. “If you call yourself a Jew”. They may be Christian believers (of a sort) but they still saw themselves as Jews, these first early converts. As such they still had all the trappings of Judaism and Paul is about to show them that this is of little help. “If you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God.”

Those, surely were the two things that marked them out from the rest of the world. They had the Law of Moses as their foundational guide and they had, they thought, a relationship with God. Note so far two ‘if’s. i.e. if you put yourself in this position or if you rely upon this thing, then realise that there are consequences. But there are two more things yet: if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.” The first ‘if’ here is about of their claim to know God’s will because it has been revealed through the Law of Moses. The second is their belief that as receivers of God’s Law, they are also those who are able to instruct the rest of the world in it. This was the crux of their beliefs, that they were the special, unique receivers of God’s Law and as such were superior to everyone else in the world,  but Paul is about to show how that is an erroneous belief.

Their reliance was in ‘knowing’. They knew what the Law was because it had been given to them through Moses and passed on down through the generations. They knew what God’s will for the world was because they had received it in the Law. Surely that made them superior. This is rather like someone who leaves university with, say, an engineering degree and feels superior because of their knowledge which is greater than others who don’t have it.  Well they might be if they used it and put it into practice, but until they do so they are merely recipients of a lot of information. Information is not for keeping in your head; it is for using in life. For these Jews, Paul is about to suggest that having the Law is meaningless unless they keep it!

However, that is not yet here in these verses. At the end of these verses he asks them something slightly different: you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” It is moving in that other direction for the implication is, if you are teaching others to keep the Law are you teaching yourselves likewise?  But that is only an implication. As it stands it is actually a challenge as to whether these teachers of the rest of the world are willing to be taught themselves, for Paul is about to do that. This is quite important. When we think we have ‘arrived’ it is so easy to get into a place where we are no longer open to be taught – and none of us can say we don’t have more to learn.

One very deceived man actually said to me once, “There’s nothing more you can teach me. I know it all.” I think that was the greatest example of deception that I’ve almost ever come across! As disciples of Jesus we are always to be learners, we are always to have an open heart to him to receive from him what more he wants to teach us. We can never stop learning this side of heaven.  But here in these verses is the thing that might stop us, this belief that we’ve arrived, we’ve got it all – certainly in comparison to the rest of the world who haven’t received the Gospel or had the teaching we’ve had.  Humility is an essential requirement at this point! May we have it!

29. The Day

Meditations in Romans : 29 :  The Day of the Lord

Rom 2:16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

“It will never happen!”  I think that is a response of many people to warnings that are given in life. The smoker is warned that smoking brings cancer and the individual thinks, “It might in others but it won’t in me.” The young person is told that sexual promiscuity brings a high risk of STD’s but thinks, “But not for me!”   And so it is in so many ways in life, our self-centred and protective inner systems deny risk. “It will be all right!” It is just the same as when Satan whispered to Eve, You will not surely die.” (Gen 3:4). When it comes to sin we may warn people that God will hold them accountable and they say “Yes” but think “No, not me.”  We may actually quote Paul saying, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) and the blindness of sin thinks, “Others, but not me. I’ll be all right.”  Well, no, you won’t!

There are two particular outworkings of this that involve us in long-term thinking. We warn, “You’re not going to live for ever, you never know when you might die and then you’ll face God,” and the person thinks, “Yes, but that won’t be for many years,” and yet a lot of people don’t reach old age, but we all think we will.  Or the preacher speaks about the day when the Lord will wind up all things and there will be a universal accounting, and the person thinks, “Yes, well that won’t be for hundreds of years yet.” We don’t know!

There is yet another ‘escape route’ that people use when we say these things: “It’ll be all right, no one knows about my sin,” as if their sin being hidden from human eyes means they will not be accountable to God. Nevertheless the belief that what we have been doing has been in secret leads many people to foolishly think they are safe. No you are not because God sees everything!

We say all this because of where Paul has got to now. “This will take place…” What will take place?  Well if you look at the verses in the paragraph from which the above verse comes, you will see that verses 14 and 15 are an aside in brackets. So the ‘this’ refers back to what was said in verses 12 and 13: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” i.e. there is coming a time of judgment when we have to account for what we have done or not done. That is the starting place.

Now something else is then made clear: “on the day when….” This isn’t something general, which could happen any time. There is coming a day, a specific time and day, when God has decided that this will happen. It won’t be an accident and it won’t be forced by circumstances but it is a day that God has decided upon before anything else happened. It is part of His sovereign plan, so it WILL happen.

So what will happen? “God will judge men’s secrets.” This is going to be a sovereign act of God. It won’t be that circumstances will pile up against us, but that on this appointed day, God Himself will step forward and He will hold a court case against us and the evidence will be put forward and our lives displayed – everything about us, even the things we thought were secret that no one else knew about – and God will pronounce judgment on these lives of ours. Already we are starting to feel uncomfortable. How can we possibly hope for a good outcome? Perhaps we can make excuses? I didn’t know. Yes, you did; your conscience told you. Or maybe, well I’m no worse than anyone else. So what? You’re still talking about your sin. Or perhaps, it wasn’t my fault? You mean you are unable to make your own choices in life? You didn’t choose to do those things? No, the outlook is not good!

But on what measure or standard will God judge us? “Through Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? I suggest there are two applications. First, He will measure us against the standard of the life that Christ lived. How do we stand up to that test? That’s unfair, we cry, he was the Son of God. Yes, but he was still living in a human body with human feelings and human free will. Oh dear, we’re going to fail that one!

But there is yet, fortunately, a further possibility. I say fortunately because I hope the answer to what is coming is positive. The other way that God will assess us, is how we have responded to Jesus. That is what the gospel is all about that Paul then refers to.  Jesus came and lived on the earth and we saw all of his goodness and the love of God displayed through him. How do our hearts respond to that?  If it leaves us cold we condemn ourselves. But then he died on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. How do we respond to that?

If it is with indifference we condemn ourselves. If we receive his salvation gladly we are not only saved today, but we will be saved on that day when we have to stand before God and account for our lives.  We will surely fail when we are measured on the basis of our personal goodness, but when it comes to how we responded to Jesus, that is much easier if we can say, I heard, I responded and I took him as my personal saviour and was born again.  THAT and that only is the only way we will be able to stand with any confidence before God on that last day.

28. Righteous

Meditations in Romans : 28 :  Righteous in God’s Sight

Rom 2:12-15 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

Paul now comes with a clear logical flow of doctrine. Earlier he quoted from the Old Testament: “God will give to each person according to what he has done.” (v.6) and then, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” (v.9). Now he anticipates questions about how sin will be assessed. Will it be according to the Law? What about those who don’t have the Law, the Gentiles? How will God assess them? These are the thoughts that flow through his mind. He lays down a number of principles that we need to look at.

Principle one: If you have the Law you’ll be judged by that; if not, you’ll be judged by another means: All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” i.e. one way or another sin WILL be judged. That’s the first thing to note.

Principle two: It is doers of the Law, not merely hearers of it, who will be declared righteous: For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Merely because the Jews had the Law and were taught it, that did not mean they were automatically righteous. That is what is being inferred here. God gave the Law for it to be obeyed. But what about the Gentiles who don’t have the Law?

Principle three: Even if you don’t have the Law and yet live according to the things found in the Law, it becomes obvious that goodness is a natural thing found by a good conscience. Paul breaks this down into a number of statements: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves.” i.e. when people outside the Jewish community, who do not know about the Law, do things similar to things found in the requirements of the Law, they show that they have a law within themselves, the law of right and wrong. That is how God has made us: even though they do not have the law, … they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” That is the truth; every person has within them an innate sense of right or wrong and it is shown by the way people try to live according to standards. We don’t live wildly and recklessly, by and large. We live according to various pre-determined standards and by that we show something of God’s design within us, to be moral beings.

This is revealed even more by the awareness of conscience: their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” Conscience is simply that inner awareness that we are moral beings and there are standards to be lived up to, standards that say there is a distinction between right and wrong.

We live in a day of moral relativism in the West, where people say there are no absolutes and that we live according to culture or our times, but the truth is that this is merely an excuse because, in reality, everyone does have standards. We may try to think that we are free and can do whatever we like, but when others start doing whatever they like and it harms us or affects our property we quickly squeal for the Law to come and apprehend those who have hurt or harmed us. We would all say that it is wrong for another to come and murder me or rape me. We all say it is wrong for someone to come and vandalise my car or steal my goods. Oh yes, as soon as it touches our lives these relativistic excuses are rapidly thrust away. They are the play toys of philosophers and those who want to excuse their bad behaviour.

The truth is that the moment you speak about something that “is not right” you reveal that you are a moral being and you have to wonder where that comes from. It is not merely a survival thing because I have so many possessions that if you steal one it does not threaten my survival. No I appeal to a hidden standard that says this is wrong, give me back what you have stolen. Even more we may appeal to the Law of the land to punish the person who took my goods; we appeal in the name of ‘justice’.

No, whether I like it or not I am a moral being. The only trouble is that I don’t even live up to my own standards. I think it is wrong to get angry and upset but I can’t stop myself sometimes. I know it is foolish to worry and get stressed but I can’t stop myself sometimes. Here is the human dilemma that Paul is inching towards: we are moral beings who have standards – whether laid down by God (the Law of Moses), laid down by our society (the law of the land) or laid down by me (my conscience) – but unfortunately we cannot abide by those laws. (Paul will expand on this in Chapter 7). Accept the truth: we all live – or fail to live – according to the rules. We have the rules, fail to keep them, and then feel bad. That is the major human dilemma.  That is the dilemma that the Gospel addresses. Hallelujah!

27. Just Dealings

Meditations in Romans : 27 :  Just Dealings

Rom 2:6-11 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism.

We saw in the previous meditation in Romans,  Paul’s assertion that God will deal with every person justly because He hears, sees and knows everything about every one of us. Thus at the time of reckoning, His assessment of us will be perfect and our excuses will count for nothing.  Now the structure of these verses is interesting because first we should note that Paul now goes on to describe the two possibilities in humans – good and bad – but then reiterates them both but putting good second.

It is as if, by leaving us with the good, he wants us to focus more on the good than get bogged down in the bad. Now this is an important point for there are those Christians of a legalistic brand who are more concerned about the negatives of life, but faith always looks for the positives that come through Christ. As Paul said to the church in Corinth, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” (2 Cor 1:19,20) You can’t get any more positive than that!  So let’s note the two options first of all.

The two options involve first behaviour and then the ‘reward’ for that behaviour. In the first option the behaviour is in respect of those who, by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality.” These people do good and are motivated by a long-term view of life. These people, who are aiming for ‘glory, honour and immortality’ should not be seen in a secular sense as we might speak of say Greek warriors. This is Paul who thinks and speaks in spiritual terms all the time. It is surely reasonable to consider that the glory he speaks of is glory for God and the honour is honour that comes to God through this person’s goodness so that they have a place with God in eternity.  In the absence of God this person simply extols good, and honour and glory are reflections of goodness, but we believe our former suggestion is more likely. The reward for this person, says Paul, is eternal life.

The other option, the other person, is the one who is ‘self-seeking’ and rejects the truth and follows evil.  Note the linkage of these three things.  When you place self at the centre of life, you have to reject the truth that is there – God – and you end up following evil, which is life and behaviour that is contrary to God’s design for human beings. The ‘reward’ for this person is wrath and anger’.  Now we have considered both these words before.  Wrath is simply anger that has been pushed into action.  So, yes, this person does raise anger in God, but as they go further and further down the path of folly, they provoke God into action which is wrath.

Now he doesn’t stop there but reiterates the outworking of this second man: There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” God’s anger which moves into wrath means that there is a practical outworking of this.  It’s all going to go wrong, it’s all going to fall apart for this person who does evil.  It’s how God has made it to work.  If you do wrong there ARE going to be bad consequences.  Paul wrote so simply to the Galatians: A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) You WON’T get away with it!  The consequences will come back on you!

No one gets away with it!  This most basic and fundamental of principles is seen millions of times in modern life.  The more a nation is ungodly and unrighteous, the more it will be seen.  Our ‘Social Services’ are under siege as they desperately seek to manage society’s ills – and fail because there are so many of them!  And we fail to see the cause!  ‘Trouble and distress’ prevail. Ask any doctor, any psychiatrist, and any pastor!  It doesn’t matter who they are, Jew or Gentile, this is how it works for the whole world.

Then, as if to leave us on a positive note, he concludes, but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good.” That’s what he wants for us. That’s what God wants for us – for us to be good! And we then get these wonderful ‘rewards’ or ‘fruits’ that go with it that could simply be summarised as ‘God’s blessing’.

These are the life options that are before us. Without God in our lives we can live neither of them, but with His help, inspiration, guidance and power we can be those who live the good life and who receive His blessing. May we be in that group!

26. You Deserve

Meditations in Romans : 26 :  Get what you deserve

Rom 2:5,6 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”

Paul has been warning all self-righteous, religious people (possibly there in Rome, but generally as well) against feeling smug and secure when they look down on others for being less than perfect, when they themselves are similarly less than perfect. More than that, when we are in that position we tend to feel we are all right and that God will overlook our failings, our ungodliness and even our unrighteousness – because God doesn’t seem to be doing anything in respect of us! But that is a misunderstanding, he has been saying, because God is simply giving you space to come to your senses and to realise your position and your need, so that you then come to repentance.

It hinges about this who thing of God holding back but, says Paul, you may think you get away with it but in reality you are stubborn and unrepentant if you just carry on like that and there IS going to come a day of reckoning for you! In the previous meditation we noted Peter’s words: “the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (2 Pet 3:7). There IS coming a day when God will wind everything up and everyone will have to account to Him. Don’t be under any illusions; this is coming and you need to be ready for it.

When that day comes, says Paul, “his righteous judgment will be revealed.” When God judges all men and women, when he assesses their lives, His assessment will be right, or accurate, or perfect. We will not be able to question anything He says for He will know everything there is to know about us, and if today we tend to shrug off our ‘minor imperfections’ they will be truly seen for what they are – Sin! There will be no excuse making.

Now in your Bible at the end of verse 6 you will probably see a reference to a footnote that tells us that Paul is simply quoting the Old Testament when he speaks about this: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Psa 62:11) When the psalmist spoke about God being loving, he meant that God would never be biased against someone or be unkind to them; He would always reward people according to what they had done.

Now we’ll see Paul unpack this some more in the verses ahead but we’ll leave that to the next meditation. For the moment we simply focus on the overall principle. Solomon reiterated it in the Proverbs: “If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Prov 24:12). There the same thing comes over, that we may make excuses but God weighs our hearts and sees and hears and knows everything there is to know about us and so He will repay according to what He sees, hears and knows. The message in this chapter should come over loud and clear: NONE of us has any room to make excuses; we are all sinners and we all fall short of perfection, and if we carry on in a self-satisfied way, without doing anything about it, then we are in for big trouble when we come face to face with God and have to account for every detail of our lives to Him.

Now there are usually three responses to this. The first rejects the whole thing and unbelief denies all that has been said. That person simply reveals the hardness and stubbornness of their heart, and simply confirms what Paul has been saying. The second response is to strive harder to be good. This person recognises the truth that they are less than perfect but believes that with a bit more effort they can reach the target, but when tomorrow comes, the target is still just as far away despite all the efforts of today. No, this person has embarked on a fruitless task!

The third response is to turn to God in desperation. This person recognises the truth of their own hopelessness and helplessness and also that without God’s mercy and grace they are doomed. If there is an answer, God has to provide it, for we cannot.

And that, of course, is what the Gospel is all about. That is why Paul is taking so much time to lay out the awful state of the human race, to show us our terrible state, and to show us our helplessness, so that we may see our need of the Gospel.

To the church at Corinth he declared, we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). To the religious, self-righteous Jews, Jesus dying on a cross for them was a stumbling block that they could not cope with. For the intellectual Gentiles, talk of the Cross as a means of salvation was shear folly. In fact before that he had said, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) To the person who is still in the place where they are perishing (before coming to Christ) the Cross seems crazy. It is only when we come in repentance to God, convicted by the Spirit of our sins and our terrible state, that suddenly that all changes and the cross becomes the means and the power by which we are saved and delivered from his hopeless and helpless plight. Hallelujah!

25. Contemptuous

Meditations in Romans : 25 :  Contemptuous?

Rom 2:3,4 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

The trouble with life is that it is so easy to jump to wrong conclusions about God. If you read the book of Job you find Job’s three friends jumping to the conclusion that all his misfortunes were the judgment of God on his sin, but the truth was that God had declared him righteous and the misfortunes were simply a test. Now I say this because so often silly people jump to the conclusion either that there is no God or that he is impotent, because they see so little of His corrective activity. The sinful man doesn’t realise that God is holding out a hand to him to save him, and because he doesn’t see God moving to deal with and stop him sinning, he is contemptuous of God’s inactivity and so carries on sinning even more. Wrong assessment of God, friend!

In the previous meditation we considered the danger of pointing fingers at other people and judging them for being less than perfect. We did stray into verse 3 and recognise that we are in trouble if we do that when we ourselves do similar things to those Paul listed, if not actually some of them.  We did observe our inability to live completely righteous lives and therefore the folly of judging others when we are just the same.

So now we move on a little bit from that and consider in more detail the second folly, that of being contemptuous of God’s grace and mercy, for that is what it is when we disdain God’s restraint in respect of us. This restraint of God has always been a stumbling block to people. We see it in the book of Job when even Job himself falls into the trap of wondering why bother being righteous when God seems to let sinners get away with it.

In fact so big a problem is it to some that even the apostle Peter weighs in on this subject when he says, By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:7-9). Yes, says Peter, there is coming a day of judgment when God will wind everything up on the earth but don’t be confused by the fact that God is waiting for this day; it is just that He is giving you every opportunity to come to repentance and be saved.

Now do you see that last bit? That is exactly the same as Paul is saying when he speaks of people, “not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance.” That is what God is working for, our repentance. Repentance simply means a one hundred and eighty degree turnabout. We have been living self-centred, unrighteous lives and He is waiting for us to come to our senses and do an about turn to seek after godly and righteous lives. That is why He is waiting and not bringing destructive judgment on you. Merely because you seem to be getting away with it for the moment, don’t think that you are safe! You’re just being given breathing space in which God wants you to come to your senses and see the hopelessness of your godless situation and turn to Him for salvation that he wants to bring through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the frightening thing about life before God who looks on and sees all that we do. In His grace, instead of striking us down, He gives us this awesome responsibility of taking decisions for our lives, decisions that can take us further and further away from Him and further and further towards destruction. And what is even more scary is our apparent blindness while this is happening; we fail to observe the symptom of sin and its effects and we take for granted the fact that we feel miserable or depressed, that we seem to always be striving to achieve self-worth, that we seem to always be at odds with other people, that we are having money problems, sex problems, health problems and indeed, problems in every area of life. We don’t realise that these things are NOT natural, are not part of the lives that God has designed us to live, but are symptoms or effects of the sin that drives self ever deeper into these things. We seem utterly blind to these things!

And all the while, there in the background is God’s “kindness, tolerance and patiencethat continues to desire good for you.  All the while He is giving you free reign to do your own thing in the desire that you will eventually realise that ‘doing your own thing’ is not the best way. In fact it just leads you down this downward slope towards ultimate destruction – and you thought you were free! No, this is God giving you space to come to your senses. How far down the slope do you have to go before that happens? If this is you, it’s time to stop and take stock of your folly and come to your senses. You’re heading for destruction but God wants something wonderful for you – to bring His blessing into your life, to call you a child of God with an eternal destiny and a new purpose in life while still here on this earth, but that can’t come until you turn to Him. What if He calls, “Time’s up!” tomorrow. Don’t presume that His grace will last for ever. Today is a day for action.

24. Passing Judgment

Meditations in Romans : 24 :  Passing Judgment

Rom 2:1,2 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.

It is so easy to point fingers at other people, to look down on them for their less than perfect lives.  This error tends to be the prerogative of the rich and the religious. We are concerned here only with the latter. It is an amazing thing that the Jews had such a feeling of superiority over Gentiles because, as we’ll see as Paul moves on, they had been the people chosen by God and they were the receivers of the divine revelation – and the Gentiles (the rest of the world) weren’t! Moreover tales from around the world of the immoral behaviour of the Gentiles made the Jews feel even more superior as they kept the Law. Except the only problem was that they didn’t!  At least they didn’t keep it completely; they never managed to keep every single item of the Law. Indeed one of Jesus’ objections about them was that they were more concerned with keeping the exact standards of the written law than they were in loving people and loving God. We might also say that, looking back on their history of repetitive failure in respect of their relationship with the Lord, they really had no grounds to feel superior – but they did.

So Paul is going to address the Jews in Rome first, and it will soon become obvious that it is the Jews he is addressing. He says that if they pass judgment on others, they have no excuse and are actually condemning themselves. He’s going on to explain that in more detail in a moment, which we’ll see in the next meditation, but for the moment let’s just note Paul’s objective in this section.

He has just spoken about how the ungodly world has gone down in a spiral of sin as they have let their depraved minds carry them away – and this has all been part of God’s judgment. The sins that we have considered would have mostly been ones that the Law-keeping Jews would have mostly considered scandalous – as would most Christians. Oh my goodness, we might exclaim, I wouldn’t do those things! Really? Paul says to the Jews that they had no ground to pass judgment on others because they do the same things! Well, it’s only a little bit of harmless gossip. No it’s not; it’s still gossip. Oh there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of ‘retail therapy’. Is that another way of saying it’s alright to fuel your greed that looks to get more and more?  Oh it’s all right, surely, to want to be like those who are more beautiful, handsome or gifted than me? Is that another way of excusing your envy and covering up your lack of contentment? And when we see TV pictures of refugees and make negatives comments about how these ‘Third world people’ live, isn’t that an expression of heartlessness?  Indeed even when we hear of growing numbers of teenage pregnancies and decry their immoral behaviour, isn’t that actually the same heartlessness?

But there is something worse. Paul’s list is not exhaustive. I have noted something over the years and it is that when people start trying to categorise sin they find that they never quite know when to stop. That’s what the Pharisees of Jesus’ day did. They sought to detail and explain the Law bringing everything under the umbrella of those rules. After a while life becomes so restrictive that you find you are only focusing on failure.

The apostle John had the same thing in mind: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8). The point that is being made again and again is that none of us have grounds to point fingers at others, first of all because we ourselves are not perfect. But there is another reason that is implied in our verses above: God’s judgment is based upon truth – ours is based on only partial knowledge. When we point fingers at others, we don’t know the whole picture.

We don’t know the truth of what we think about them and we don’t know the truth of why they are acting like they are. If we knew the whole truth we might restrain our judgmental tendencies. One writer tells the tale of how he was quietly sitting in a three quarters empty underground train when at the next stop a man and two young children boarded. The children were noisy and disruptive and the father made no attempt to subdue them. When it came time for this threesome to get off, the father, obviously aware of his children’s noise, apologetically said to the writer, “I’m sorry, we’ve just visited their mother in hospital and she’s dying of cancer and has only hours to live.” Suddenly the writer felt differently about this man and his children.

God’s judgment is fair and just and based on the whole truth. Ours is not, and so we have no grounds on which to judge others. The final truth? We are all in need of the salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.

23. Deserving Death

Meditations in Romans : 23 :  Deserving Death

Rom 1:29-32 They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them

We are working through this list that Paul presents to us, that are ways a depraved mind expresses itself through the lives of the godless. In the previous meditation we had got as far as ‘boastful’. Before we continue with the list it is worth reminding ourselves that these are the outworkings of a mind, we said, “that has been spoiled, damaged and doesn’t work properly.” That is what depraved means and that is the mind of every person, says the Bible, who has never come to God and surrendered their lives back to Him. Let’s continue the list.

“They invent ways of doing evil” i.e. these people are ever looking for new things to do to express their hearts, they are never content with where they are, there always needs to be something more, because nothing satisfies. One level of sexual perversity is never enough, there has to be more. One level of drug taking is never enough, there has to be more.

“They disobey their parents” i.e. they reject the first level of authority that they ever encounter in the world. In God’s design parents are crucial to a good life and to blessing; that is why we find in the Ten Commandments, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) which Paul himself later reiterates: “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise— “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:2,3). How tragic it is in so many families that the parents provoke their children to disobedience and the children end up missing out on God’s blessing!

‘Senseless’ means having no good sense, being stupid or foolish or having no real point or purpose in life, meaningless. The expression of the depraved mind here is that they reveal that they are aimless by the stupid things they do. If they were rational they would look at what they do and realise this.

‘Faithless’ means they lack faith or do not keep faith, which suggests being dishonest, disloyal, unreliable and undependable. They lack character.

Heartless’ means they are hard and pitiless, they lack kindness or feeling, they are callous. Heartless people don’t mind what happens to others, and look on others’ misfortunes with scorn and derision.

Ruthless’ means they are absolutely without pity in their activities in life, and this is just a further stage down the path away from God’s design. Ruthless people cause harm to others without concern for the consequences or for the feelings of those they hurt.

Each of these latter descriptions take us further and further away from God’s design for mankind and show us people who are behaving more like vicious animals than human beings made in the image of God, and all of this is the outworking of a mind that no longer works properly.

But these godless and unrighteous people continue down this path willfully and with knowledge. They know deep down that these things are utterly wrong and that before God they deserve to die. They are damaging themselves, they are harming others and they are damaging God’s world. It is a miracle of grace and mercy that they are still alive! If we were God we would almost certainly have wiped them off this beautiful world that we had made, but God’s grace and mercy has other plans!

Yet these people continue down this terrible path. They don’t only do all these terrible things but they approve others who do them as well. It is like any form of sensitivity has been dulled or anaesthetised and so they are utterly careless as to where this path is taking them and about the effects they are having on others. They are utterly taken up with ‘self’ regardless of the consequences. This is the plight of the human race and it is only a matter of degree as to its outworking. When God’s hand of restraint rests upon us, these things are limited but when, in His wisdom, He decides that people are so set in their ways that He has to act, more often than not He simply lifts His hands of restraint off so that we are free to go down this terrible downward path until we are either destroyed or we come to our senses and call to the Lord to be saved. That is the divine strategy behind all we have been seeing in the latter part of this first chapter of Romans.