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Unchanging Truth: We All Need a Savior
Scripture: Romans 2:1-16
Track 4 of 14 in the Study of Romans series
Running time: 23 minutes, 48 seconds.

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Brian Lowrey Speaker: Brian Lowrey

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Sermon for Sunday, June 22, 2003
"Unchanging Truth: We All Need A Savior"
(Romans 2:1-16)
C. Sackett

Maybe you've seen that sign somewhere. I've always appreciated people who had the courage to walk around on the streets and carry these repent or else signs. I also have wondered whether or not anybody ever had any kind of response to one of those repent or else kinds of signs. I've actually seen people who've done this. I've never done it myself, but I've been the person in the neighborhood when somebody was walking around with the placard reminding us that he was returning — that we should repent or whatever it is that the sign might happen to say.

Just out of curiosity, were any of you ever, ah, attracted to one of those signs? I'm not asking if you ever saw one, but did it ever do anything for you? I don't know that they are all that helpful. The problem is, they're true. We don't necessarily respond to them very well, but they state the truth--that the Lord is going to return--that we should repent or else--that judgement is coming--whatever that happens to say when you see it caricatured in a cartoon.

The point of this text in Romans Chapter 2 is really very simple. It's this unchanging truth--ah--we all need a Savior--and the reason??--because there is judgment included in the gospel. This good news that Paul announces in Romans Chapter 1, Verses 1 through 16 immediately turns in Chapters 1, 2 and 3 to the fact that we're all lost and one day are going to stand before God. Listen for that language in Romans, Chapter 2. We'll read the first sixteen verses here.

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. 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?

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." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor 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, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

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.

Well, the question for me is, what God's judgment might be like. The contract of course, is with man's judgment in Verse 1 when we sit back and we look around us and the folks who write on these passages raise two possible issues. It's either that these are, frankly, moral Gentiles who have listened to Paul's condemnation of the immoral Gentile and said, Paul, you're right. But, we're not all like that. Or, it's the Jewish audience who says, yes Paul, give it to those Gentiles cause their all a mess and you're right. They ought to be condemned. And then he contrasts that kind of human judgment with God's judgment--and I just want to give you some words that might begin to describe God's judgment.

For example, God's judgment is accurate.

I think that's a fair way of looking at Verse #2. For example, he says, Now we know God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. It's not based on human perception. It's not based on our thinking what we think we might see, it's based on what God actually does know and see.

Maybe you've seen this image before. The question is, what is it that you see? Some of you are looking at a beautiful, young woman wearing a nice fancy little flower or feather, or something on the front of her hair.

Over here on the left hand side is her eyelash and just the shape of her nose. Ah, some of you are seeing, instead, an old hag. And that left front, is in fact, her nose and down here, this, what might be a neckline, is her mouth. And some of you are not seeing anything at all.

If you look long enough you'll discover that there are two ways of looking at that picture. And depending on which way you look at it determines what you're going to see. Unfortunately, that's often how you and I come to judgment. We see things in a certain way and so, we judge things in a certain way.

A man got on the subway train one day. He seemed to be, basically oblivious, to what was going on. Brought his three children on. His three children were, literally, running all over the place creating nothing but difficulty for other people on the train. He seemed to totally ignore those children to the point that other passengers finally were frustrated with him and said, Why don't you do something with your children? And he seemed to kind of rouse out of a stupor to say, OH, I'm sorry, I didn't realize they were misbehaving. We're on our way home from their mother's funeral and I guess I'm just not paying good attention.

And suddenly your perspective changes.

There was a letter to Ann Landers written here a number of years ago. A grocery store clerk wrote a letter to Ann Landers talking about the luxury foods that people on welfare would purchase. She identified two things in particular in this particular letter--birthday cakes and bags of shrimp. A few days later Ann Landers printed this letter. I'm the woman who bought the $17.00 cake and I paid for it with food stamps. I thought the checkout woman in the store would burn a hole through me with her eyes. What she didn't know is that the cake was for my little girl's birthday. It will be her last. She has bone cancer and will only live another six to eight months. And suddenly your perception changes.

I made the smart-aleck remark last week, I don't know why people don't just open their windows in this good weather, turn those air conditioners off. If you were going to do things right, you'd do it my way. And somebody immediately walked up and said, you obviously don't have asthma. It's a matter of perspective.

What this text teaches us is that God is going to judge according to the heart, not based on outward appearances. It's not based on what we might like him to see, but what he does in reality, he sees the truth. Verse 16 simply reminds us that we will be judged according to the heart. And he judges very differently than you and I do. Those that we might condemn, he might not have any problem with whatsoever and vis versa. Those of us who think we have everything in a perfect row, may find ourselves in difficulty. Remember Jesus statement, I didn't know who you were.

Well, let me give you a second word that may describe God's judgment, and that is the word personal

Verse #6 says, God "will give to each person according to what he has done."

God's judgment is not based on comparison to other people. God's judgment is based on you and his standard for what's right. It's not based on how you stack up against somebody else. It's based on how you have related to God, not how you have necessarily compared to your neighbor.

Now I always wanted to be six foot tall. I am living proof that what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, that you can long for something to be bigger than it is and it's not going to happen just cause you long for it--‘cause I never made it. But--by comparison to some of you--I'm fairly tall. So I can make myself believe that I'm really, really, tall if I just hang around with really short people.

My five year old grandson is going to be the next Michael Jordan, maybe! But, right now--I can beat him in basketball every time. I mean, I tower over the poor boy. Give him five years and I'm in trouble. That's not judgment though, is it?

Not God's judgment where we compare ourselves with some arbitrary some other person and quite frankly, you know, if you're just looking for somebody to be better than, it's not real hard to find somebody that you are better than. The problem isn't being better than, the problem is that God is not judging you by who you are better than, he's judging you according to the standard that he's outlined in his word. And so he says he will judge us by our works. He's going to base his judgment on evidence, your evidence, the personal evidence of your life, not how you compared with somebody else, but how you compared with you, and with him.

And there is introduced the great paradox of scripture. We cannot be saved by our works but we will be judged by them. We are saved by grace through faith. And yet, scripture is clear that if there is no following work, if there is no evidence that grace has invaded your life, that you have faithfully responded to Jesus, and it begins to produce in you certain kinds of actions and behaviors, that's what you're going to be judged upon. So James would say, faith without works is dead! Well, he's just giving you the evidence. So the paradox is, no, you can't earn your way to heaven. But yes, you do have responsibility to be doing what God calls you to do.

And so, in Verses 7, 8, 9 and 10 he talks about what you're seeking, those things that you're after. And those who seek evil with get evil in return and those who seek good have some opportunity to get good in return. Although you certainly need to realize, that none of us will be good enough on our own to get to heaven. That's still God's grace.

Well the third word that comes out of this text is that

God's judgment is going to be fair.

Verse 12 says, 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. In other words, God treats everybody fairly. He attempts to allow you to be judged based on this standard that you have in front of you.

A couple of years ago I showed up in Europe to teach my class and I got there the first day--there is always a pre-class assignment. I'm assuming those class assignments are being done even as we speak because two weeks from now class is going to start. I'm going to assume that on Tuesday when class starts at 8:00 o'clock, 9:00 o'clock, there will be a pile of papers written in Romanian and Hungarian sitting on that table and I hope a translator who can read them. Now almost inevitably someone is going to come up to me and say, I don't have my paper done. And my response will be, why? And almost always one person will say, I didn't know about it.

Now in the United States, in my classroom in Lincoln that excuse flies like the proverbial lead balloon. But in Eastern Europe, where you may or may not have telephone access or you may or may not have email access or you may have traveled for days by train or a bus in order to get to class, it is a distinct possibility that you can show up Monday and not know on Tuesday, that there was an assignment that you should have done prior to coming to class.

So--what will I tell them? Tough - you should have done it. No--I won't, because it's not fair. You can't do what you don't know. And God is not going to judge people based on what they don't know. He's going to judge people on what they do know, so those who have the law, he says, I'll judge according to the law. Those who do not have the law, I will judge according to what they knew.

And the problem is, of course, in Romans 1, 2 and 3 is that we all end up condemned anyway because none of us live up to the standard, even the standard of the human conscience because the human conscience is fallible. But it is a fair judgment when God allows us not to be treated the way we would treat somebody else, but the way we would be treated based on what we know. The frightening thing is, is that the human conscience is so clearly conditioned by the world in which it lives. I grew up with conscience. I knew when I had done something wrong, even though I grew up outside the church. I knew when I had done something wrong cause there was a cultural standard of right and wrong.

I read something this week that was interesting to me. Charles (Coleson?) Kohlson(?), who is the head of prison fellowship. You know him from days of Watergate fame. He spent his time in prison too. He gets frightened anymore, he says, when he goes to prison because, he says, the older prisoners are afraid of the young ones. He said it used to be the other way around. That the hardened, older criminal was to be feared by this new young person. But, he says, now the young prisoner has no conscience and so for them violence is normal. And there is no remorse. That's a scary time.

So conscience cannot necessarily be counted on to be a fair judge which is why we have a word from God telling us what the standard is so that he can judge us fairly.

Now, let me give you a fourth word.

God's judgment is always redemptive.

Verse #4 says, do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? God's judgment, his desire for us is always a redemptive, it is never simply in order to punish someone. Even the very threat of a coming judgment is intended to be a redemptive kind of response. God talks about judgment in scripture not to frighten us, but to call us, to woo us, to remind us that we will one day stand before God. But he wants us to be redeemed.

For twenty years I have lived in a college setting and for twenty years we have had the typical situation of having some kind of discipline, virtually every year. Not every college student has their head together when they show up, even on Christian college campuses. I've always been glad not to serve on the discipline committee because my solution to all discipline problems is KICK EM OUT!

Fortunately, Tom Ewald was the head of the Discipline Committee for twenty-five or thirty years and his policy was always redemptive--and he taught me a lot.

That even under the scrutiny of judgment, it was always with the intention of bringing redemption, bringing change. See. The difficulty is, when we're so busy looking at each other, trying to figure out whether that other person is doing it right or not, we are often not paying much attention to ourselves. And so, the opening part of this is, this either very moral Gentile or this very self-righteous Jew saying, give it to em Paul, tell those Gentiles their all lost and going to Hell. And he says, now wait a minute, be careful how you judge other people because you, yourself, are going to be judged by those standards. Do you not know, he says that God's tolerance leads to repentance? God's kindness is an amazing thing. The fact that we do not suffer immediately for many of our decisions is an act of God's tolerance and patience. The fact that he gives us an opportunity to respond. The fact that he gives us multiple opportunities to respond. That he calls us week after week and day after day and year after year is obviously his kindness and his tolerance. And so often we miss that.

I don't suppose I will ever forget, probably because it was my father, but maybe simply because of what he said. My dad had absolutely nothing to do with the church all of his life. He did not reject the church. He just didn't have anything to do with the church. His family was not Christian. He did not know Christian people. The few Christian people that he knew were not particularly Christian, Christian people. I didn't do a very good job as a young Christian of being the kind of model to my father that I should have been. I prayed for a long time that my dad would give me an opportunity to talk to him about his relationship with the Lord. That just never happened until September of 1985 when my father was laying in the hospital dying. I sat by his bedside for twenty-four hours watching him move in and out of a coma and at 6:00 o'clock on a Wednesday morning, my father sat up in bed and he asked me this question. Do you think that God could forgive someone who has overlooked his kindness as long as I have?

You know, I gotta tell you something, my first response was--where in the world did that question come from? I don't know cause my dad didn't have any exposure to Romans Chapter 2, but he might as well have been quoting the second chapter.

God's kindness leads you to repentance and he understood, somewhere down in his psyche that he had been ignoring the kindness of God. And that, that kindness had been calling him, wooing him, to come to the Father.

Are you doing that?--overlooking his kindness--ignoring that wooing voice?? Cause all God's doing by giving you another day is giving you one more opportunity to repent, to come, to listen to him.

Now, the rest of the book of Romans, Chapter 4 and following, which we'll start next week, is all about God's grace and about our faith and his response, and our response. But we respond to God because there is the need to respond. We are all lost--outside of Jesus--we are lost!

But God in his grace and in his kindness said, Come to Me, love me and I'll pour out the blessing of redemption and salvation on your soul--your life.

I don't know what else we can do, is just keep offering that to you--just keep saying to you one more time--God loves you enough to send his Son and because we need a Savior, he gave us one. That fact will never change. What you do with it--that's up to you. He will not force you to respond, but he will continually call you to himself. Maybe you need to come today. Maybe there's a part of your life where you need to accept God's kindness and you need to say, I need HIS forgiveness. Maybe we can help you. If you've never given your life to Christ for the first time, if you've never responded to him in faith, in baptism, in obedience--then we're inviting you to come while we sing.

If you need for a Christian brother or sister to sit with you and pray, we invite you to come and we'll have somebody come and pray with you. Do not ignore his kindness. His tolerance is there for one reason. To lead you to him.

Let's stand and sing.