For God does not show favouritism. 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.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
There is such resentment about favouritism. Someone gets a job because people interviewing him are in debt to his family. A referee favours a team because his father came from their town. A judge is biased because he always liked the accused and his family. Favouritism. We are all torn apart by our desire to be impartial and yet by our biased affection for people and causes. Favouritism is making an unfair decision because we’ve been bought by a person or an issue.
But “God does not show favouritism” (v.11) says Paul. It would be unthinkable for the God of truth and righteousness and justice to act like that. He knows every single factor in his decision-making progress. He knows the entire history of the people he is judging; he knows all the influences that have been brought to bear upon them; he knows their thinking, and the pressures they have been under. He understands how one of them acted as he did, why he warmed his hands by the fire on a cold night and denied Jesus three times. The Lord knows the reasons why one of his friends sold him for 30 pieces of silver. He knows why I have acted so often in a sub-Christian way, and I have no excuse. He will show no favouritism to me because I am Welsh, or white, or a preacher, or because of certain grades I obtained in exams. He will be absolutely fair and straight as he deals with me and with you. The Judge of all the world will do right. He is not a God compromised by favouritism – as all of us are to one degree of another. The first point that Paul makes is this…
- THOSE WHO HAVE HAD THE LAW OF GOD AS WELL AS THOSE WHO HAVE NOT HAD IT WILL EACH BE JUDGED IMPARTIALLY.
Read the apostle’s words: “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” (v.12). You will remember that Moses received the law of God on Mount Sinai. The ten commandments were written by God of tablets of stone and given to Moses who brought them down and read them to the people and the tablets of stone were placed in the Most Holy Place, behind the veil, inside the ark of the covenant. Henceforth all the children of Israel who sinned under the knowledge of those commands would be judged by the standard of the law. Did you have any gods beside me? Did you worship any idols? Did you take my name in vain? Did you keep my Sabbath holy? Did you honour your father and your mother? Were you a violent person? Were you sexually immoral? Have you stolen anything? Have you been a liar? Have you coveted anything belonging to your friends and neighbours? You know that this was my will for creatures living in my creation? Yes. You know that by this standard you will be judged? Yes. You know that “anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins”? (James 4:17). Yes. “All who sin under the law will be judged by the law” (v.12). And every mouth is stopped.
But what of the nations who never had the ten commandments? The Aborigines, the Maoris, the Eskimos? Did this mean that they did not sin, because their ignorance of the law God gave Moses exonerated them from the judgment of the law? If you didn’t notice the sign of a 30 m.p.h. speed restriction and drove at 40 m.p.h. does that mean that you became exempt from punishment? No. You committed a crime even without being aware that the law forbade you to travel at that speed in that zone. Even so you will be judged as a law-breaker. Your plea that you didn’t see the bold sign, 30, is no grounds for a not guilty verdict. You should have seen it. “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law,” (v.12).
In other words, it is unnecessary to have a policeman in a car sitting next to you saying loudly, “You are entering a 30 m.p.h. zone.” It is unnecessary for there to be a searchlight trained on a 30 sign which is as big as a bus and a siren sounds as you approach it. There are other indications that this is a 30 m.p.h. zone and you are without excuse. You have some degree of light on the Highway Code and you have failed to live up to it. Any creature who knows more than he practices is a guilty creature.
So every Gentile in the world who did not have the ten commandments on tablets of stone yet has an awareness of God from creation and from conscience, and such an awareness is in advance of how that Gentiles actually lives, and so he will be punished and deservedly so. Here are two men in our text, and one has a dark suit and beard and wears a big black hat and on the seventh day of the week he goes to the synagogue. The other is a hippy in his dress and lifestyle. What a variety of moral intelligence each one has, and even among the Jews and among the hippies there is no one who possesses the same values in either class. It is the same among the students at our university there are some who have a thoughtful grasp of God and his law and others who do not but there is not a single person in our town whose knowledge of God is not in advance of his own character and conduct. Everyone knows more than he puts into practice. Ask the young shop-lifter doesn’t he know that it is wicked to steal and he says defiantly, ‘Yeah.’ Ask the violent man if he has lived in accordance with his conscience, whether he has always obeyed it, and he will tell you ‘No.’ The variety of moral standards amongst students is almost as great as their number but in every instance the amount of knowledge is greater than the amount of virtue. Whether a student knows little or much they all know more than they perform. Each one will be judged according to their knowledge whether they have had the law of Moses or not, and then every mouth will be stopped. None of you will be judged because you did not have the knowledge that Gabriel the archangel possesses. You will be condemned because at any moment in your life you had a perception of the greatness of God and his holy requirement of you and that was enough to rebuke you for disregarding them. You all have known God to some degree and you have failed to glorify him as God.
- IT IS OBEDIENCE TO THE LAW, NOT A KNOWLEDGE OF IT, THAT IS REQUIRED BY GOD.
“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” (v.13). If you think that you are safe from condemnation because you go to a church where the ten commandments are read out regularly and you hear them and remember them then beware! 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. There was a time in the life of king Saul when God gave him victory over the Amalekites and told him to destroy everything that was Amalekite, but that seemed irrational to Saul, the sweet mountain sheep and the fat cattle, and so he did not slaughter them. God sent the prophet Samuel to visit him and he heard the sound of the sheep bleating and the cattle lowing. “What is this that I hear?” he said to king Saul. Ah! “The soldiers spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God” (I Sam. 15:15). The prophet told the king, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice” (I Sam. 15:22).
It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight. The Lord Jesus, in fact, says that many will say to him in the last day, “Lord! Lord!” and yet he will say to them, “Depart from me” because they’ve done iniquity, not righteousness. Who will be declared righteous? He says in verse thirteen, “It is those who obey the law.” But now here is the challenge. Here is the dilemma! Have we obeyed the law? Yes many of us have led decent and kind lives. Thank God for that, but have we obeyed the law from our hearts? Have we loved God with all our heart and soul? Have we loved our neighbour as ourselves? Has there been scrupulous inward obedience to God? You protest that you have always tried to do your best. Then I will repeat to you the story of Bishop Taylor Smith, how one day he was having a haircut, and the barber was a charming talkative man so that the bishop could hardly get a word in edgeways. Finally he asked the barber if he were a religious man. “I don’t suppose you could call me religious,” he replied, “but I always do my best, and I think that God cannot ask anything more of a person than he always does his best.” It was time to go and the bishop stood up and then remarked to the barber, “You could do with a haircut yourself,” and the barber agreed. “I have been very busy of late, and have not had the time.” “Sit down,” said the bishop, “I’ll cut your hair for you.” “Ah, you couldn’t cut my hair” “I’ll have a go” the bishop replied, “I’ll do my best.” The barber smiled kindly, “But your best wouldn’t be good enough for me.” “And your best isn’t good enough for God” said Taylor Smith.
God hasn’t said to us, “Do your best to do what you think is a decent job of living.” He speaks to men and women whom he loves and whom he cares for and supports. He says to them, “Love me genuinely and totally and love your neighbour as yourself. That is my standard. That is what I declare to be a righteous life. If that is so who will be judged righteous by God? One alone! One person alone since Adam to today. One man as loving as God. One man as holy as the angels. Only one. Just to one person did God say, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Just one person who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, who was born of a woman and lived under the law and did everything that the law required – with no sins of omission, and no heart sins, or sins of imagination. Jesus Christ the righteous one; God’s holy child Jesus. Paul is showing us our need of salvation through Jesus Christ when he says in our text, “It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” We have not obeyed God’s law, but Jesus Christ has. Haven’t you often thought of someone’s great gifts and talents and longed that you could have them? That you could play the violin like them, or have their wisdom, or that your voice was as rich and beautiful as theirs, or that you were as skilful with a soccer ball as they were, or that you could cook as they cooked. Have you ever thought, “I wish I had the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, when the time will come when I will stand and be judged by God. How I’d long to have his righteousness as my own!”
In the gospel of Jesus Christ that righteousness is revealed. In the good news about him we are told that his righteousness is freely imputed to all those who entrust themselves, all that they are and all that they have done, into the safe keeping of the Lord Jesus. They have heard him say, “Come unto me and I will give you rest,” and they have come, just as they are, and have put themselves in his hands. “I am coming Lord, coming now to Thee. Wash and cleanse me in the blood that flowed on Calvary.” They have looked away from themselves, not only from their unrighteous acts, but all the righteous things they’ve done. They have looked to the Lord as their righteousness. He of God is made unto them righteousness, for God made his Son sin for them – the one who knew no sin – and he has condemned their sin and guilt in the death of Christ, that they who believe in the Lord Jesus might be made the righteousness of God in him. You see this extraordinary transaction. The sin of those who are joined to Jesus Christ by their faith into him was imputed to Christ, while his righteous life and the merits of his atonement are imputed to these sinners whose trust is in him and all he is and all he did.
So you see the great apostolic logic: there is first the divine requirement: it is “those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13). Then there is the divine judgment: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Then there is the divine provision: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- THOSE WHO ARE DECLARED RIGHTEOUS BY GOD WILL CERTAINLY OBEY GOD’S LAW.
“It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (v.13). Let me take this on a step. We are declared righteous because of Jesus Christ – because of his blood and righteousness. That is the foundation of our justification. The means of our justification is through faith alone in Christ alone. “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” So the command of the gospel to all men is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Let me explain to you the significance of that. We are not justified by loving, because loving is doing, and everything we do we do imperfectly. The best husband in the whole world has not loved his wife as he should; he has failed to love her absolutely perfectly. He needs to pray, “Please forgive me for not loving as I could have.” The phrase in the Bible is “the labour of love”, in other words there is energy and hard work and sacrifice and determination in love – the labour of love. And as we imperfect Christians who are labouring, with our inconsistencies, and falls, and inadequacies, and sharp tongues, and foolishnesses, then we say, “Lord it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint.” We could not then be justified through our loving, because our loving is a mixture of good and bad. Our sin has affected it so it is adulterated and compromised in the best of us.
We are justified through putting our trust in the love of Jesus Christ for us, because his love was perfect love. It was divine love, all loves excelling, sacrificial love. Here is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and gave his Son for us. He loved me and gave himself for me, said Paul. So the glory and priceless advantage of trust is this, that we bring nothing with us at all. We come empty handed to God. We come guilty conscious of the dark blots of our sin. We come to receive, not to present to God the loving things that we have done. The best of them is inadequate. We come to get his Spirit, his welcome, his pardon, his mercy, his instruction, his cleansing, his protection, his companionship. Our faith simply connects us with Christ; it plugs us into the Saviour; it joins us to him; it puts us in him. We are justified through the faith that trusts in the Lord Jesus.
“Naked come to thee for dress;
Helpless look to thee for grace;
Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Saviour or I die.” (Augustus Toplady).
That is the language of faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. So the grounds of being declared righteous are everything that the Son of God is and has done. The means of being declared righteous are not our loving works because sin has contaminated the best of them. The means is our looking to Jesus, our dependence on him, making him our only plea, “Save me for Jesus’ sake.” Why should God let you into heaven? Not because of your love- it is imperfect. Not because of your faith – it is imperfect – it is because of Jesus Christ. He is your one and only hope of glory… “Jesus my great high priest offered his blood and died. / My guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside.”
The sinner who trusts in Christ bows before the holy God and pleads, “Let me into your heaven because Christ your Son achieved full redemption for me. I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.” That prayer is the articulation of your faith; that faith in the mercy of God in Christ is the means by which you are declared righteous. So, firstly, the entire ground and the basis of justification is the person and work of Christ. And secondly, the means of obtaining justification is trusting right into Jesus alone. Our faith in Christ connects us to him. We are joined to him, not for the years of time alone but for eternity. That is what our faith does. It did not die for us. It did not rise from the dead for us. It does not live in heaven and interceded for us. It is not coming again for us. No. That is the Lord jesus Christ. Our faith does one thing only; it connects us to Christ. It fuses us into him.
And then we return to these words of our text again to find the third answer to the question as to how we can get right with God. The proof that a believing sinner is right with God, the evidence of personal justification, that we have indeed been declared righteous is, in Paul’s words here, obeying the law. So you can say it in three ways. It is through Jesus Christ alone that we are declared righteous. It is by faith alone in him that we are declared righteous. And it is by our good works, our law-keeping, in other words, the change in lifestyle, in our beliefs and practices, our good works, our new love for God and man, our keeping Christ’s commandments, the things we have done for the least of Christ’s brethren which we discover that we have also done to him. These things are the evidential marks of our justification. Good works are the indispensable signs that the justifying grace of God in Jesus Christ has been freely given to us.
This is the great thrust of James, the half-brother of our Lord in the second chapter of his letter, the famous section that pleads for Christians to do works. He says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:14-18). We show that we are really trusting in Christ alone by faith alone by the change that such beliefs have created in our lives. We are now loving our neighbours as ourselves; since salvation through Christ we discover a new compassion and thoughtfulness and self-denial and brotherly love, and it is all because of what God has done for us in Christ.
How important is it that sanctification follows justification? They are Siamese twins that cannot be separated. Both will wither and die if they are separated. Can you say, “But if you make a decision for Christ, or if you sign a card, or if you repeat a prayer, or if you walk to the front, or if you let a bishop put his hands on your head in confirmation, or if you get baptized and join a church, then that is all that is needed to get to heaven. You may not live a religious life but that is an option. What is essential is to decide for Christ. You will just lose some rewards on the Day of Judgment, and you will take a back seat in glory, but you will be out of hell and into heaven. Dangerous stuff and nonsense! Listen to Paul; “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9&10). It is not that they lost some rewards but inherited the kingdom of God. They were never Christians at all; they were mere decisionists. Some Corinthian Christians used to be ungodly and unrighteous like those Paul mentions, but when they were justified by faith grace changed how they lived. They stopped doing evil and for the rest of their lives they did much good.
Or again think of that warning in the book of Revelation and chapter 21: “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death” (Rev. 21:7&8). It is not enough to make a decision. Such sinful behaviour as those men and women once displayed must be ended. No holiness, no heaven! If God should justify a people and not sanctify them, he would be justifying a people whom he could not glorify. You may want heaven and nurture your lusts too, but you have to make a choice. There is no way you can leap from Delilah’s lap into Abraham’s bosom.
- THE TRULY RIGHTEOUS CANNOT BUT LIVE RIGHTEOUS LIVES.
I will give you three irrefutable reasons why this must be so…
i] The holiness of God demands it. “Be holy,” says God, “for I am holy,” and he is talking to his children. He is talking about family likeness. Like Father, like son. He has no unholy children. The thrice holy God whose eyes are too pure to behold evil or shrug indifferently at cruelty and horrors makes holiness the condition of entrance into his presence. If you profess you are sons of God but act like children of the devil then you actions will speak louder than your words in the courts of heaven. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. Only the pure in heart shall see God. We must be holy and loving on earth is we are to be holy and loving in heaven.
ii] God chose us for this very purpose. The opening long sentence in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians states this fact, “He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephs. 1:4). God has made up his mind. He was determined to do this before the foundation of the world. He loves his Son so much that he would fill the world with those who are being transformed from one degree of glory to another, and so they become the light of the world. Heaven will contain a vast company of justified sinners and each one will be like the Son of God. The justified sinner has this hope in him, and so he is active in purifying and maturing himself just as Christ is pure. Every single person who has that hope in them – of future Christ-likeness – will go for it! Like the future astronaut prepares himself for weightlessness, or the pilot of a fighter plan prepares himself for mighty G-forces. Lack of righteousness must raise the question of whether we were ever chosen by God or have any desire for God.
iii] Our holiness was the reason for which the Son of God died. He died to make sons of sin children of righteousness. Paul couldn’t make this clearer in his letter to Titus. He tells him, “Our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:13&14). You say that you’ve been washed in the blood of Christ? Then why are there patterns of sin in your life that you are not putting to death?
Or again think of how Paul describes the dying of Jesus in his letter to the Ephesians. It is one of those extraordinary examples in the Bible where the highest and most glorious doctrines are taken to reinforce basic morals in Christians. Paul wants Christian husbands to love their wives deeply and strongly and this is how he does it, by referring to the purpose of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ their Saviour; “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephs. 5:25-27).
Let me give you one more verse to the same end: “he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15). Don’t you see that in chapter after chapter in the Bible this theme appears. It is not some optional by-path which only very particular religious people walk. No, it speaks to every person who is trusting in the blood of Christ for their salvation. “Then do you show in your life that you know why he suffered and died for you on Calvary?” It was for our holiness, that we didn’t live for ourselves but that we consider others much better than we are. Did he tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God against sin in order for me to indulge myself in any sin that I fancy? Was he forsaken by God that I might cling to my beloved sins? How can I thus crucify him afresh and put him to open shame? The stimulus to holiness that comes from Golgotha’s fountain means my richest gain I count as loss and pour contempt on all my pride. Those who obey the law and those alone will be declared righteous.
Every blessing God gives me, every good and perfect gift I daily receive from him, every exceeding great and precious promise that is mine, every kindness I receive, every discovery I make of the height and depth of God’s love are all designed to encourage in me a new hunger and thirst after righteousness. Did God love a guilty worm like me from all eternity? Then I will show my love in return by living a life zealous for good works, a life of obedience to his law, a life of growing likeness to Jesus. Did he call me by his grace, and give me life when I was dead, and pardon for the most monstrous of my sins? Then I will walk in his steps. Has he justified me, adopted me and united me to himself? Then I will love him and hate sin. Is he providing all my needs today and does he promise one day he will glorify me? Then I will live a life that pleases him, a life whose purity, modesty, meekness and brokenness of spirit gives glory to God. How can we make void the commandments of God by going on loving sin when we possess such privileges as those that God has given us?
2nd March 2014 GEOFF THOMAS