Yesterday morning, in our study through Romans, our text was Romans 3:9-20. I titled the sermon, “The Truth About Sin” because Paul comes to a climax in his argument about how both the Jew and the Gentile are all under sin—guilty before God. In short, sin kills and we’ve all been born as guilty sinners. Paul does a great job of looking at how both the Jew and the Greek are guilty—and he does so from the Old Testament.
Not long ago, Andy Stanley made another controversial statement that made its way through evangelical circles. He stated that the Old Testament was not necessary for new covenant believers. In short, this is what Andy Stanley said:
Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well…Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures.
The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is, did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.
As we look at Romans 3:9-20, we have to ask an honest question. Was Paul writing to new covenant believers? Sure he was—it was post-resurrection. We must be honest with this text and recognize that Paul could have quoted Jesus about sin without quoting any other passage of Scripture. However, that is not the approach of Paul. In order to prove the absolute wickedness of the human heart of both Jew and Gentile, he points back to the Old Testament and quotes thirteen different verses to establish his point. If the new covenant believers need to “unhitch from the Old Testament” why was Paul quoting from the Old Testament so much?
Paul points to the depravity of all people in Romans 3:9 and demonstrates that both Jew and Greek are all under sin. He then takes his readers on a journey through the Old Testament to prove his case. Verse 10-12 are quotes taken from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53. This entire section is focused on the character of the human heart. In verses 13-14, Paul turns from the heart to the tongue as he focuses on the speech. These verses contain quotes from Psalm 5, Psalm 140, and Psalm 10. Finally, Paul turns from the tongue to the works of a person—how a person lives life. In this section, Paul quotes from Proverbs 1, Isaiah 59, and Psalm 36. It’s quite clear as Paul drives home his point that the human heart is filled with wicked desires and there is no fear of God before depraved sinners.
Finally, Paul points to the law of God and reminds his readers that no person can keep the law and please God. It’s through the law of God that we are held accountable and that we have the knowledge of sin. The very moment that a person believes that their ability to perform their religion is able to please God—they are doomed. That type of thinking produces spiritual hypocrites who are like whitewashed tombs—white on the exterior and full of dead man’s bones on the inside.
Has God changed your heart? Have you experienced the transformation mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:17? If not, why not submit yourself to Christ today and repent of your sin as you believe that Jesus paid for all of your sin on the cross? You may be a wicked sinner, but Jesus is a faithful Savior.
Yesterday I preached Romans 2:17-29 in our study through Romans on Sunday mornings. The focus of Paul’s words was centered on the danger of hypocritical religiosity. Certainly if anyone could address such matters, it was Paul, a Jew of the Jews, a Pharisee—one of the insiders who became a true Christian and an apostle. Having been on the inside of the Jewish religious system and now serving as a Christian preacher—Paul understood the trap of legalism and hypocrisy. Paul sounds the bell of warning here in Romans.
Paul sounds the alarm regarding self-deception. At the root, sin is the deceiving of the individual’s conscience so as to cause a person to believe the devil’s lie about being satisfied in sin. In all reality, sin never satisfies. When sin is wrapped up in a religious system, it takes on another form of satisfaction—the idea that a person can please God in works of righteousness. This is precisely the issue that Paul was addressing with the Jews of his day.
The Jews were engaged in national pride, boasting in their bloodline. They were relying upon the law of God, when in reality the law has no ability to save but every ability as God has designed to condemn a person. The Jews were boastful, as they boasted in God and the law—their boasting was sinful arrogance rather than humble exultation. The Jews were hypocrites (actors) who played the part of God-fearing law keepers, but in reality they were sinners just like the Gentiles. Paul’s aim was to remove their mask so they could see their true face—the face of sin.
Paul pointed out that they were entrusted to be guides to the blind—leading people out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. They were to be teachers of children—but while they boasted in the law they kept it to themselves and failed in their mission. Because of their failure, they caused Gentiles to blaspheme God. Paul’s charge of indictment was a stinging reminder of the failure of hypocritical religion.
Paul went on to point to the inability of circumcision to please God. The mark of identification was a good thing, but if they were law breakers—the cutting of the flesh was of no value in terms of saving grace. They needed something far greater and that circumcision was of the heart.
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
- Ezekiel 11:19 – And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh
- John 1:12-13 – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
True Christianity is not based on external cutting of the flesh and keeping of the law it’s based on the changed heart through Jesus Christ. As you examine this text and this great indictment upon the Jews and their legalism and hypocrisy—what does your Christianity look like? Legalism is a dangerous pit!
Charles Spurgeon once said, “It would appear that God does not know the best way of saving men, and men are so wise that they amend His methods!”
Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach Romans 2:1-11 as we continued our series through Romans on the Lord’s Day. The focus of the text was centered on Jewish hypocrites who were more than willing to judge the Gentiles, but were often guilty of engaging in the same exact sins. Paul turned from his focus on Gentiles in chapter 1 to his own people—the Jews in chapter 2. This important shift places the hypocrisy of these Jews front and center, and as we consider the hypocrisy of Paul’s day, we would do well to consider the hypocrisy that often consumes us.
Warning Regarding Hypocrisy
The word hypocrite “ὑποκριτής” means an actor or pretender. It depicts the one warning a mask to conceal the true identity of the actor. All through the Scriptures, we see warnings to such individuals. Jesus provided some sobering warnings in Matthew 6:2, 5, and 16. Here, Paul turns to the religious Jew and warns them that they too were in danger of hell-fire.
The Jews, Paul’s own people, were all in agreement that God was not pleased with the sinful practices described back in chapter 1. God will judge such depraved persons in accordance with their sin. However, in many ways, the Jews were guilty of similar sins, and they often believed that God would overlook them because they are the chosen nation. God chose Israel in order to show His glory among the nations and according to Deuteronomy 7, it wasn’t anything special about Israel that caused God to choose them.
Deuteronomy 7:6–8 – “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
The Jews, were known as “the circumcision” which was a sign of their covenant with God. Separated unto God. They looked down upon the Gentiles (non-Jews) as “the uncircumcision.” The Gentiles were looked upon as the savages – rebels – and unholy people. Jews would walk from northern regions to southern regions taking the long road around Samaria in the middle region because they rejected the Samaritans as rebels – half breeds – who had broken their covenant with God. Many Jews would give a funeral service to their son who married a Gentile woman. Jews were not permitted to aid in the birth of a Gentile woman’s child because they were seen as assisting in bringing another Gentile into the world. Often, Jews would shake the dust from their feet after having to travel through Samaria and other places known as Gentile regions in order to show their disapproval for those people.
According to John MacArthur in his sermon on this very text, “For example, they had some interesting sayings. One of them was, ‘God loves Israel alone of all the nations.’ Another one: ‘God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another.’ They said this: ‘Abraham sits beside the gates of hell and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go through.’” Paul writes to these people, in this culture of hypocrisy, in order to warn them of the coming judgment of God that would one day consume the disobedient Gentile as well as the disobedient Jew.
Paul warned them that they were storing up “θησαυρίζω” wrath upon wrath for the day of judgment. Paul speaks of the fury of God’s wrath which is a frightening picture—one that these disillusioned Jews needed in order to shake them out of their state of sin.
Reassurance of God’s Perfect Judgment
While other judges may rule with imperfection, our God rules with precision. Paul stresses that point has he points out that God will judge every person according to their works (Rom. 2:6). Be sure of this, God’s judgment is righteous and pure. There will never be a single soul who accuses God of unrighteous judgment. R.C. Sproul, in his commentary on Romans, writes, “The judgment of God is not simply righteous, but it is according to truth. God makes no mistakes when he hears a case, when he brings us before him on trial.” 
As God judges with perfection, we must be reminded that every sin will be judged and every sinner will receive a due penalty. Therefore, we must conclude that hell will not be the same for every damned soul who enters the lake of fire. We see this truth explained by Jesus in Luke 10:13-15 as well. If God judges with perfection and precision, the vile murderer such as Hitler will have his due penalty just the same as the man who lived in a jungle and never once heard the name of Jesus, never murdered a single person, and worshipped a carved image in a tree. Hell will not be the same for both individuals. Just as Martin Luther once reminded us that “the devil is God’s devil,” we must remember too that hell is God’s hell. He owns it and he is sovereignly overseeing it—in every detail.
Just as Paul announced salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek in Romans 1:16, he too reminds these Jews that God will judge the Jew first and also the Greek. There are no back door deals with God. Our perfect Judge rules with righteousness and purity and there will be no under the table deals made to get a person into heaven. God doesn’t honor the “good ole’ boy” network. God judges without partiality.
Are you a mask-wearing Jesus follower? Are you a hypocrite who needs to be saved? Are you prepared to stand before the King of kings and Lord of lords? One day soon you will—and you will need righteousness that you cannot earn and that you cannot buy. You will need perfection. The only means whereby a guilty sinner can receive such righteousness is through Jesus Christ—the perfect God-man. Any and all who come to him by faith will be saved. Will you trust in his finished work on the cross for your salvation?
- R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 47.
Yesterday in our Romans study, I preached on Romans 1:18—on the wrath of God. It’s not a light subject and it’s never a fun sermon to deliver. However, as we consider the whole book of Romans and Paul’s emphasis on the gospel—the good news of Jesus—we must realize that in order to talk about the good news in the right way, we must first deal with the bad news. Right from the beginning of his letter in the opening chapter, Paul addresses the monumental aspect of God’s wrathful vengeance on those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
As we consider the subject, it would be good to address the definition of God’s wrath and then be clear as to what Paul is not communicating in this phrase in Romans 1:18. First of all, there are several different types of wrath that can be attributed to God in the pages of Scripture. Below are the different variations of God’s wrath:
Eschatological Wrath: The wrath of God that will be poured out at the end of time – on what is known as the Day of the Lord – when the world will receive the fury of the wrath of the Lamb. People will run into the hills – into the caves to seek refuge from God – and yet they will cry out for the rocks to fall on them because they will not want to receive the tormenting wrath of God (Rev. 6:16-17).
Cataclysmic Wrath: This is the wrath of God unleashed through natural disasters, hurricanes, tornados, mudslides, forest fires, sink holes, and various other disasters like that of tsunamis. The rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16:31-35 is an example of this type of wrath.
Consequential Wrath: This is the wrath of God that is experienced in this life through the “reaping and sowing” aspects of life that God has made known to us. We reap what we sow. We reap more than we sow. We reap later than we sow. The death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is an example of this type of wrath.
Abandonment Wrath: This is a terrifying reality of God’s wrath when he finally and forever turns away from a person or a nation — leaving them in their sin — and removing his restraining grace from them. We see this type of wrath put on display at the end of Romans 1.
Eternal Wrath: This is the final wrath of God unleashed upon those who die without grace when they are sent to an everlasting hell. We see this in Revelation 20:11-15 and in other places such as Revelation 14:11, Matthew 25:41-46, Mark 9:42-48, and Luke 16:19-31.
Redemptive Wrath: This is the wrath of God poured out upon his Son—Jesus Christ as he suffered and died on the cross to save his people from their sins. We see this described in 1 Peter 2:24, Galatians 3:13, and John 3:16. The prophet Isaiah stated clearly in Isaiah 53:10 that it pleased the Father to crush him (Jesus).
We often disconnect the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. Our culture filled with skeptics enjoys this tension and likes to point out that the God in the Old Testament was an angry God and Jesus comes along in the New Testament with a “turn the other cheek” mentality. The problem with this assessment is that it doesn’t deal with the totality of the information. First of all, we must remember that the doctrine of the Trinity, as revealed in the pages of the Bible, points out that Jesus was present and active in the judgments that took place in the Old Testament. Furthermore, as we read the book of the Revelation and read of the wrath of the Lamb that’s yet to be unleashed, people begin to get a more wholistic picture of who God is and how he demonstrates his wrath upon sinners.
When we consider the word used here by Paul, we must be clear that the wrath of God is not a cosmic temper tantrum. Paul uses the Greek term “ὀργή” meaning strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, w. focus on retribution, wrath. This particular Greek term has in mind the picture of a plant swelling juice in the heat of the sunlight to the point that the consistent and slow swelling stretches the skin of the plant like a tomato—until it finally bursts.
In the well known hymn by the Keith and Kristyn Getty, In Christ Alone, there is a line about God’s wrath. It reads, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied.” A hymn committee with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) wanted to add the song to their new hymnal, Glory to God, released in the fall of 2013. They wanted permission to alter the words—changing “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” Keith Getty and his co-author Stuart Townend rejected the request and the hymn committee banned the hymn from their hymnal. Mary Louise Bringle, the chair of the committee explained their decision as she said, “The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness.” The “view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger” would have a negative effect on the hymnal’s ability to form the faith of coming generations.
In some circles today, the love of God is elevated above the wrath of God with clear emphasis, and that’s a tragic mistake. It does not reveal the true nature and revelation of God as he has put on display in the pages of Scripture. We must be balanced and true to what God’s Word actually states. God is not a loose cannon losing his temper with people. God’s wrath is not a reckless rage, an uncontrollable anger, a senseless fury, or an unjust vengeance. The wrath of God is a precise and controlled response to the belittling of his holiness. Everyone who perishes under the wrath of God in eternity will not be because God lost his temper with them and mistreated them. On that day, everyone will know that God has treated them with precise justice. Three trillion years into eternity every sinner who is cast into hell will still know that God never mistreated anyone.
Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
—At the Cross – Isaac Watts
Yesterday I had the privilege to preach from Romans 1:17 in our study of Romans on Sunday mornings. This single verse is known as the text of the Reformation. While it served as the spark that ignited the Reformation—long before Luther was converted out of the darkness of Roman Catholicism—Paul sent this text to Rome to encourage the church there in order that they would be a faithful people who would not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. In many ways, Romans 1:17 is the text that rocked Rome twice.
The Necessity of Righteousness
When Paul claims that he is not ashamed of the gospel, he then says, “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed.” This righteousness is what plagued Martin Luther as he sought to live up to God’s righteousness in the flesh. No matter how hard he tried to perform this type of righteousness—he found himself weak and unable to accomplish this standard in his flesh. The reason that Luther was so troubled is because he had misinterpreted the verse. He could not see that Paul was writing about an alien righteousness—one that is extended to sinners as a gift of God.
The righteousness that Paul describes here is what God grants to sinners, the righteousness that he imputes to the elect and effects in the lives of those who believe. For Luther, this was an impossibility. Once Luther said, “If anyone would make it to heaven by monkery, it was I.” However, in all of his attempts to please God, he found himself unhappy and guilty. While in the monastery, Luther would buffet his body in order to please God. Luther as on a class of his own in self-punishment – religious masochism – in order to please God. In his monastic duties, Luther buffeted his body beyond degree.
- Once Luther nearly froze his body to the point of frost bite from the exposure in his dark and cold cell.
- Luther would go without food well beyond the degree of biblical fasting – to the point that his friends could count his bones.
- He was known to faint out of pure exhaustion – without necessary food intake.
- He often flogged his body in self chastisement.
Luther went on a religious pilgrimage to Rome to visit the relics and worship in order to settle his troubled conscience. Even there—Luther was unfulfilled. After climbing the Scala Sancta — Known as the “Holy Stairs” – or the sacred steps – these steps were supposedly the stairs that descended from Pilate’s judgment hall where Jesus was judged. It’s believed that they were later moved to Rome. Serving as a relic of the Roman Catholic Church—if you crawled up the stairs on your knees while kissing each step—God would forgive the sins of such a person. Luther climbed each step to the very top on his knees praying along the way. When he arrived at the top, he cried out aloud, “Who knows if it is true?”
Later in 1519, Luther was high in the tower of the Castle Church in Wittenberg meditating on Romans 1:17. It was that verse that had so plagued his conscience causing him to hate the righteousness of God. Suddenly, for the very first time in his life, he could see the true meaning of the text. The scales were removed. He could see that this was not some standard that God was holding up before man in order that sinful man would perform this righteousness, but rather this was a reference to the righteousness of God that is imputed by God as a gift which is received by faith. At this very point Martin Luther was born again. Listen to the Reformer explain this in his own words:
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory.
Our own righteousness is as filthy rags before a sovereign and holy God (Is. 64:6). We have nothing that we can offer God that would please him. Therefore, we must receive the righteousness of another—namely his own Son Jesus Christ—by faith. For ages this righteousness had been veiled until the earthly ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Following the resurrection of Christ—Paul writes this letter to Rome in order to encourage them in the faith and to remind them that the once veiled righteousness is no longer veiled. It has been revealed in the gospel and it’s necessary for salvation.
The Necessity of Faith
The drumbeat of the Reformation is “justification by faith alone in Christ alone.” Where did that idea emerge from? It emerged from the teaching of Scripture—namely the teaching of Paul. Paul makes a clear point that it is by faith that we receive such righteousness and it’s by faith that we continue each day as the recipients of the righteousness of God. From faith for faith—we live by the righteousness of God that we receive by faith. Augustus Toplady wrote these familiar words that we sing often:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
When we see the word “believe” or “faith” in the Bible, it’s often the same Greek term either in the verb or noun form. In Romans 1:16, we see it used in the verb form and in Romans 1:17, three times it appears in the form of a noun. By an act of God’s grace—guilty sinners are brought to a place where they see and understand their sin. It’s not faith in faith that saves a sinner—but faith in God through Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross that brings salvation. This faith itself is a gift of God—not of works so that no person may ever boast before the Lord (Eph. 2:8-9).
Just as the guilty conscience of Martin Luther was settled once and for all by the truth of Romans 1:17, the same thing can happen in your life today. Will you turn to God by faith and receive the righteousness of Jesus? Sin leads down a broken road to destruction and only in Jesus can we receive the righteousness that’s necessary to please God. On your very best day you can’t please God in the effort of your flesh.
Yesterday morning, I was able to preach the second of two sermons on Romans 1:16—focused primarily upon the power of the gospel to save sinners. Although Paul could have phrased his joy in the gospel in a positive manner, he used a negative construction to point out that while the whole world views the gospel as utter foolishness—Paul views and understands it to be the power of God unto salvation.
When was the last time you paused to consider how weak we are in the flesh? The best human effort will fall far short of what God requires for salvation. There is nothing that we can bring to God that will impress him and cause him to take away our sin. On our very best day as a human being, we would earn eternal hell rather than the glory of heaven. Paul points to the gospel as our need and as God’s means to bring about the ends of salvation among the nations.
God will never be satisfied with human effort and the human will is incapable of desiring God in the natural state. Apart from God’s grace that comes through the power of the gospel—sinners would never repent and believe the gospel. Man cannot work his way to God, will his way to God, or worship his way to God. R.C. Sproul once said, “Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation.” John the apostle makes this abundantly clear in the early pages of his Gospel account as he writes, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
When Paul speaks about the “power” of God—he is not referencing the omnipotence or specific attribute of God. Rather, Paul is referencing the power of the gospel itself which God uses to bring dead sinners to life spiritually. That’s why Paul did not depend on his own power when preaching the gospel, but the power of the gospel and he made this quite clear as he wrote to the church at Corinth (see 1 Cor. 2:4-5). It was not the power of Paul’s words or his cleverly constructed cliches that brought about the conversion of people in various cities. It was the power of the gospel as God’s design to bring about the salvation of all of God’s elect for the eternal glory of God.
Charles Spurgeon understood this point as well. He would ascend his lofty pulpit repeating to himself each step of the way, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in tihe Holy Spirit.” In fact, Spurgeon went on to say:
If we had the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it would signify very little about talent. Men might be poor and uneducated, their words might be broken and ungrammatical; but if the might of the Spirit attended them, the humblest evangelist would be more successful than the most learned divine, or the most eloquent of preachers.
Paul goes on to make a very powerful statement at the end of Romans 1:16 regarding the fact that God brings people to faith through the power of the gospel and it’s for both the Jew and the Greek. Everyone who believes—implying that there is no person who is more or less “saveable” when it comes to the power of the gospel. God can apply the gospel to any heart of stone and cause the person to be born again. We must have this bold confidence as we minister in our communities each week.
Furthermore, the gospel is not only good news for the Jews, but also for the non-Jew. The gospel is God’s means in the mission to save sinners from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. It’s critical that we see God’s plan to save people beyond the borders of our context and our city. The eternal plan of God is to bring sinners to faith in Christ and to bring about their worship of God that begins at the new birth and culminates in the heavenly worship as we will glorify God and bow to King Jesus among a sea of the redeemed from every imaginable culture, context, and people group on planet earth. John Piper has stated it accurately as he remarked, “The reason missions exists is because worship doesn’t.”