(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 9/16/01 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Turn in your Bibles to Romans 2. I'll be reading verses 6 through 16:
Romans 2: (6) [He] will give to each according to his works: (7) everlasting life truly to those who with patience [in] good work seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility; (8) but to the [ones] truly disobeying the truth out of self-interest, and obeying unrighteousness, [will be] anger and wrath, (9) trouble and pain on every soul of man that works out evil, both of Jew first, and of Greek. (10) But glory and honor and peace [will be] to everyone working out good, both to [the] Jew first, and to [the] Greek. (11) For there is no respect of persons with God. (12) For as many as sinned without Law will also perish without Law. And as many as sinned within Law will be judged through Law. (13) For not the hearers of the Law are just with God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified. (14) For when nations not having Law do by nature the things of the Law, they not having Law are a law to themselves, (15) who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience witnessing with [them], and the thoughts between one another accusing or even excusing, (16) in a day when God judges the hidden things of men, according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ.
The last time we were in this passage, we went over verses 1 through 5 and saw that there were some who judged the Gentiles to be lost based on their works, but they were practicing the same things the Gentiles were practicing. Thus, in judging the Gentiles to be lost, they were condemning themselves. God did not judge the Gentiles differently than the Jews. The judgment of God is according to TRUTH. Paul continues in this same line of thinking in our present text. God says that He will give to each according to his works, both Jews and Greeks, because there is no respect of persons with God. It mattered not if one was part of Israel or was part of the pagan nations around Israel. And it still matters not if you are of Jewish descent or Gentile descent. It matters not if you're an American or an African or an Asian. It matters not if your skin is pink or brown or red or yellow. It matters not what language you speak. God will give each according to his WORKS, not according to his lineage or his status in society or his nationality or his language. God is no respecter of persons.
Now, are you stunned that God says that He will give each according to his works? You shouldn't be. The Bible has many passages such as this one. Let's turn to a few.
Psalm 62: (12) Also mercy [belongs] to You, O Lord, for You reward a man according to his work.
Proverbs 24: (12) For you say, Behold, we did not know this. Does not He who weighs the heart consider it? And the One who keeps your soul, does He [not] know? Yea, He repays to a man according to his work.
Jeremiah 17: (10) I, Jehovah, search the heart, [I] try the reins, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.
Jeremiah 32: (19) [He is] great in counsel and mighty in work. For Your eyes [are] open on all the ways of the sons of men, to give to each man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
1 Peter 1:17:
1 Peter 1: (17) And if you call on [the] Father, the [One] judging according to the work of each one without respect of faces pass the time of your sojourning in fear,
Revelation 20: (12) And I saw the dead, the small and the great, standing before God. And books were opened. And another Book was opened, [which is] the [Book] of Life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works.
We who believe the doctrines of grace should not shrink back from such verses. This is God's Word, which is infallibly true. Some would claim that this is the Arminian side of the gospel that is needed to balance out the Calvinist side. Some would claim that this is an apparent and inexplicable contradiction that must be swallowed by blind faith. Well, let me tell you -- to true Christians, not only are there no CONTRADICTIONS in the Bible, there are no APPARENT contradictions in the Bible. These verses do NOT EVEN APPEAR to contradict salvation by grace. There is no Arminian side and no Calvinist side to the gospel. The gospel is one gospel, and it is the gospel of salvation by grace. It is the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone, our works totally excluded from the ground of gaining salvation, keeping salvation, recommending ourselves to God, making ourselves fit for final glory, or obtaining final glory. The true gospel is TOTALLY CONSISTENT with the fact that God will give each according to his works.
Turn back to Romans 2. Let's read verses 6 through 9:
Romans 2: (6) [He] will give to each according to his works: (7) everlasting life truly to those who with patience [in] good work seeking glory and honor and incorruptibility; (8) but to the [ones] truly disobeying the truth out of self-interest, and obeying unrighteousness, [will be] anger and wrath, (9) trouble and pain on every soul of man that works out evil, both of Jew first, and of Greek.
Paul first talks about those who are given eternal life. There are two orthodox trains of thought on this passage, and each has its merits, and each is consistent with the gospel of grace. The first interpretation is that Paul is describing the fruits of those who believe the gospel. "Patience in good work" means ENDURANCE in good work in the face of trials. It is similar wording to the parable of the sower and the seed. Let's turn over to Luke 8:15:
Luke 8: (15) And those in the good ground, these are [the ones] who in a right and good heart, hearing the Word, they hold [it] and bear fruit in patience.
Another word for PATIENCE is PERSEVERANCE. So those who truly hold to the gospel ENDURE in bearing good fruit. Back to Romans 2:7. The next fruit is seeking glory. This does not mean seeking glory for one's self but seeking the glory of God in Christ, and especially, seeking final glory in which one witnesses in all its splendor the glory of God in Christ. The next fruit is seeking honor. Again, this does not mean seeking honor for one's self but seeking the honor that abides in Christ. And the last fruit is seeking incorruptibility. This means seeking the state in which one everlastingly and sinlessly worships in the presence of God. In this interpretation, it is important to note that these are the FRUITS of salvation, not the GROUND of salvation. But it is just as true that God COMMENDS His people at judgment day for their good works. Turn to Matthew 25:34-36:
Matthew 25: (34) Then the King will say to those on His right, Come, the blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from [the] foundation of [the] world. (35) For I hungered, and you gave Me food to eat; I thirsted, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; (36) naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.
We see here that God gives a commendation to His people for their deeds. But also notice in verse 34 that the people of God INHERIT the kingdom. An INHERITANCE is NOT what someone WORKS for. It is something that is GIVEN. In this case, the inheritance is given based on the work of Christ alone. So we see in this passage that God FIRST tells His people, "Inherit the kingdom," meaning that they did nothing to deserve final glory and that salvation is conditioned on Christ's work alone, and THEN He shows the FRUIT of their salvation. This is the ONLY way that this interpretation of the Romans passage can be orthodox. Any interpretation that includes any form of salvation or final glory conditioned on the work of the sinner -- which is legalism -- is damnable.
Back to Romans 2:7. A second interpretation is that Paul is describing perfect conformity to the Law. Those who perfectly seek glory and honor and incorruptibility are the ones whose works demand their everlasting life. Since no one can perfectly do good works, Paul is showing the readers how they cannot obtain eternal life by their efforts, leading into verse 13, which says, "For not the hearers of the Law are just with God, but the doers of the Law shall be justified." No man is a perfect doer of the Law; thus, no man is justified by the works of the law, as Romans 3:20 shows. Turn to Matthew 19:16-21:
Matthew 19: (16) And, behold, coming near, one said to Him, Good Teacher, what good [thing] shall I do that I may have eternal life? (17) And He said to him, Why do you call Me good? No one [is] good except One, God! But if you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments. (18) He said to Him, Which? And Jesus said, "You shall not commit murder, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness, (19) honor your father and your mother," and, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (20) The young man said to Him, All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack? (21) Jesus said to him, If you desire to be perfect, go sell your property and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me.
When the rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he should do to have eternal life, Jesus didn't say, "You can't do anything." He said, "perfectly obey the Law, and you will enter into eternal life and will have treasure in Heaven." By saying this, he was showing the rich young man that only perfect works merit eternal life and that this man was far from perfect. Paul, in describing the works that merit eternal life in Romans 2:7, is not saying that anyone can attain to these things; instead, he is saying that no one can do this. Let's look at Leviticus 18:4-5:
Leviticus 18: (4) You shall do My judgments and you shall keep My statutes, to walk in them; I [am] Jehovah your God, (5) and you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them. I [am] Jehovah.
God is saying here that if one keeps the Law, he will live by keeping the Law. Does this mean that God is saying that those who strive to keep the Law, even though they might not be perfect, will inherit eternal life? For the answer to that question, turn to Galatians 3:10-12:
Galatians 3: (10) For as many as are out of works of Law, [these] are under a curse. For it has been written, "Cursed [is] everyone who does not continue in all the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them." (11) And that no one is justified by Law before God [is] clear because, "The just shall live by faith." (12) But the Law is not of faith, but, "The man doing these things shall live in them."
Paul is here saying that the Leviticus passage means that only PERFECT CONFORMITY to God's Law merits eternal life. And, as verse 10 says, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in ALL the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them." Paul is NOT saying that good works form the ground of salvation; instead, he is saying that in order for good works to form the ground of salvation, they must be perfect, and since no man is perfect, one cannot be justified based on his works. So if we go back to Romans 2, the second interpretation would be along the lines of Galatians 3. The only way this interpretation can be orthodox is if it is not used to say that Christians should pay no heed to obeying the Law. If it is used to promote antinomianism, it cannot be orthodox.
Neither one of these interpretations denies salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone; in fact, they affirm it. So there is room for either interpretation among Christians. I'd just like to give you some of the strengths and weaknesses of each position. The first position is that Paul is talking about the fruits of a person who believes the gospel. The second position is that Paul is talking about perfection that no one can obtain. The strength of the first position and weakness of the second position is that Romans 2:7 is contrasted with verses 8 and 9. If verse 7 were talking about perfection, then it would seem that Paul would contrast this with those who imperfectly seek glory and honor and incorruptibility. Instead, he contrasts the good works of Christians with those who disobey the truth out of self-interest, obey unrighteousness, and work out evil. It is a contrast between those who do good and those who do evil. The strength of the second position is that it continues along the lines of the fact that no one is righteous and leads up to Romans 3 that says that salvation is not by the works of the Law and that a righteousness apart from the Law is revealed in the gospel. And guess what - at this point in my studies, which have been pretty extensive, I don't know which one is the correct interpretation. I allow for either one, realizing that there is only one correct interpretation of this verse. But I must tell you again that the only way these interpretations can be orthodox is if they do not lead to legalism or antinomianism. Contrary to legalism is the truth that our works form NO PART of our standing before God or our deservedness of final glory. Our entrance into heaven will not be based on our works; it will be based on the perfect work of Christ. Contrary to antinomianism is the truth that Christians DO and MUST strive to do good works and keep the Law, and an absence of good works betrays an unregenerate heart.
One of the things that both sides agree on is that verses 8 and 9 describe those who are void of a righteousness that answers the demands of God's law and justice. Paul gives us a description of them. He first says that they "disobey the truth." The Greek word for "disobey" means "to be unpersuaded." Unbelievers are those who are not persuaded by the truth. They do not believe the truth. In many other places in the Bible, unbelievers are described as people who do not believe and who oppose the truth. Let's turn to some of these passages:
John 8: (44) You are of the Devil as father, and the lusts of your father you desire to do. That one was a murderer from [the] beginning, and he has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from [his] own, because he is a liar, and the father of it.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:
2 Thessalonians 2: (9) [His] coming is according to the working of Satan in all power and [miraculous] signs and lying wonders, (10) and in all deceit of unrighteousness in those being lost, because they did not receive the love of the truth in order for them to be saved. (11) And because of this, God will send to them a working of error, for them to believe the lie, (12) that all may be judged, those not believing the truth, but who have delighted in unrighteousness.
1 Timothy 6:5:
1 Timothy 6: (5) meddling, of men whose mind has been corrupted and deprived of the truth, supposing gain to be godliness. Withdraw from such [persons].
2 Timothy 2:18:
2 Timothy 2: (18) who missed the mark concerning the truth, saying the resurrection already has come, and overturn the faith of some.
2 Timothy 3:8:
2 Timothy 3: (8) But in the way Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so also these withstand the truth, men having been corrupted [in] mind, found worthless concerning the faith.
2 Peter 2:2:
2 Peter 2: (2) And many will follow their destructive ways, by whom the way of truth will be evil spoken of.
1 John 2:4:
1 John 2: (4) The [one] saying, I have known Him, and not keeping His commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that one.
What is this TRUTH that these passages are talking about? It is the TRUTH of the GOSPEL. It is the TRUTH of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. Jesus said in John 8:32 that "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." In John 17:19, Jesus says that his people are sanctified in truth. In Ephesians 1:13, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul says that the word of truth is the gospel of salvation. In 1 Timothy 4:3, he says that believers are those knowing the truth. We see plainly from Scripture that unbelievers do not believe, obey, or know the truth. They do not believe in the TRUE gospel of the TRUE Jesus. They do not believe that Jesus Christ, the God-man mediator, established a righteousness that answers the demands of God's law and justice and that ensures the salvation of all whom He represented. And even many who give lip-service to this truth show that they do not REALLY believe this gospel truth, because they believe that those who OPPOSE this truth by believing in universal atonement believe in the SAME GOSPEL they do. So they do not believe that the EFFICACIOUS ATONEMENT is the gospel truth, no matter how much they say they do.
The second thing we see in Romans 2:8 is that the unbelievers are not persuaded by the truth because of their own self-interest. Most translations do not use this phrase as a modifier to the phrase "disobeying the truth." Instead, they translate it "them that are contentious" or "those contentious" or "those who are selfishly ambitious" or something along those lines. But in the original, the wording goes like this: "But out of self-interest even disobeying indeed the truth." "Out of self-interest" or "out of contention" is obviously a modifier. And as a modifier, it makes complete sense. Why do the wicked not believe the gospel? It is because they worship SELF. A gospel of salvation conditioned on something totally outside the sinner is unthinkable to the self-worshipers. The truth that man can in no way obtain or maintain salvation by his own righteousness is abhorrent to the self-exalters. The fact that the difference between salvation and damnation is the work of Christ alone is blasphemous to those who glory in themselves. I said it before, and I'll say it again: Whatever one thinks makes the difference between heaven and hell, between salvation and damnation, is what one glories in. It is what one exalts. It is what one worships. It is what one has an interest in. Those who believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception believe that it is the work of the SINNER that makes the difference between salvation and damnation; thus, the work of the SINNER is what they glory in. They sing praises to SELF, who made the difference by accepting the atonement that was made for everyone without exception. Oh, they claim to praise Jesus in their songs and in their prayers and in their sermons, but what are they praising Jesus for? They are praising their jesus for making it POSSIBLE for them to be saved so SELF could make the decision and give their jesus permission to save them. Many of them claim to decry humanism, but they are the most vile humanists there are. They disbelieve the truth out of love of and exaltation of SELF.
The next phrase that is used to describe the wicked is "obeying unrighteousness." The word for "unrighteousness" here is the same word that is used in Romans 1:18. This is talking about lawlessness. So we again see here the two main kinds of evil: false worship and lawlessness.
In verse 9, we see the consequences of evil, which is anger and wrath and trouble and pain on the soul of the wicked. The word for "anger" means "a burning fury." The word for "wrath" means "a stretching forth," as we saw in a previous sermon. The word for "trouble" means "distress" or "tribulation." And the word for "pain" means "calamity" or "anguish." The wicked will experience the burning fury of God's outstretched hand by suffering distress and anguish. This is what sin deserves. Sin deserves everlasting punishment in hell for eternity.
And what does the end of verse 9 say? Are any of the wicked exempt? No. Both Jews and Gentiles who are without a righteousness that equals God's righteousness, who are workers of evil, will be punished with everlasting torment. Notice the parallel with Romans 1:16. That passage says that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek. And in this passage, the wrath of God is poured out on all who work wickedness, both of Jew first and of Greek. The Jews are first in the gospel because they had the gospel preached to them from the beginning of their being chosen. Yet they are also first in damnation because they had the truth and rejected it. 2 Peter 2:21 says, "For it was better for them not to have fully known the way of righteousness, than fully knowing to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them." The Jews had the oracles and the ordinances and the prophets, all of which declared the gospel, and those Jews who sin against such a clear light are worse off than the Gentiles who did not have the gospel at all. Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:14, "And whoever will not receive you, nor will hear your words, having gone out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Truly I say to you, It will be more bearable to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in Judgment Day than for that city."
This has obvious relevance to today. The world has been so-called "Christianized." Bibles are everywhere. In fact, the Bible is the best-selling book in the history of the world. And there are people who read the Bible at home and in their worship. Yet, in spite of the fact that salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ is as plain as day in the Scriptures, they continue to spit in the face of Christ by giving him lip-service while believing that Christ's work alone is not the ground of salvation. The true gospel is right there in front of them, and they reject it. It will be more tolerable for the immoral heathen who have never seen a Bible than for them. A person who believes that Christ died for everyone without exception will receive greater condemnation than those who have never heard of Christ. It's a sobering thought.
Verse 10 shows the reward of the righteous, which is glory and honor and peace. The words for "glory" and "honor" are the same words that are used in verse 7, which we've already gone over. And, as we have seen before, "peace" is the opposite of war or restlessness or enmity. Let's turn to Galatians 6:14-16:
Galatians 6: (14) But may it never be for me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (15) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [has] any strength nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (16) And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace and mercy [be] on them and on the Israel of God.
Peace and mercy are on those who walk by the doctrine that exalts the cross of Christ ALONE and does not boast in the work of the sinner.
What do YOU boast in? If you believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception, then you boast in yourself. You might object and say that you boast in the cross, but you believe that the cross was not effectual for anyone without the cooperation of the sinner. You believe that it is the work of the sinner that makes the difference between heaven and hell. Your boast is in yourself. If you believe that universal atonement advocates believe the true gospel, then you, too, boast in yourself. You think they believe the fundamentals of the gospel and that the efficacious atonement is just non-essential knowledge acquired by learned people such as yourself. In speaking peace to those who boast in themselves, you join them in their boast. You participate in their evil deeds. But what do we who truly believe the gospel boast in? We boast in what salvation is conditioned on. We boast in the cross of Christ -- the sure, certain, and efficacious substitutionary propitiation and redemption of Christ that makes the ONLY difference between salvation and damnation. And we realize that this is the gospel and make our judgments based on this gospel. We agree with God who says that those who disbelieve the truth out of self-interest are lost. Let us who boast in the cross of Christ continually rejoice in the finished work of Christ that secures our salvation from beginning to end. Amen.