Monday, January 30, 2017

Your Only Court Of Appeal - Thoughts On Romans 2:1-29

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Romans 2:1-4 "Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"


I recall the time many years ago when I was driving into work to begin night-shift on a particular cold, icy and snowy Christmas Eve night. I'll admit I was in a hurry and really wanted to get my shift over so as to get back home to enjoy Christmas morning with my family. While driving through a particular town, my rear view mirror suddenly lit-up with red and blue lights and a shrill siren. The trooper had clocked me going 50 m.p.h in a 35 m.p.h zone. Clearly I was guilty. On the ticket he gave me was a court date in which I had to appear to pay my fine. When the day I came, I nervously enter into the courthouse. The judges' bench seemed incredible high to me as I stood before the presiding judge. 

In addition to myself and the judge was the police officer who had pulled me over that evening. There was really no room for pleading innocent - it was evident I was guilty. There was not only the officer, but his official report and my signature indicating that I understood why he had pulled me over. At that point I wanted so badly to have some sort of appeal or somebody to pay the fine on my behalf. None such thing was available or offered. So, I payed the fine and in the eyes of the law I was free to go on my way. 

My little story serves to illustrate the far more severe situation that every human being finds themselves with respect to the Holy Divine Judge. In Romans 2, God as arraigned all of humanity to determine their moral crisis. The papers of God's law have been served. Moreover, the sirens and lights of the human conscience are flashing in every human soul to pull-over, since they are guilty of fleeing from the presence of God. How can anyone fare in the presence of God who knows all and sees all. Moreover, how aware are people of the fact that there is not only an actual Divine court of justice, but also a Divine court of appeals? 

In today's post, we will unpack the moral crisis of sinful humanity before a Holy God in Romans 2:1-29. All people are issued this Divine arraignment by God regarding their sinful condition. How will you and I plea to the charges against our sin? To what or whom can we appeal to get the charges dismissed? Let's explore Romans 2:1-29 to discover what I'm calling: "Your Only Court Of Appeal."

1. God’s Courtroom, Humanity On Trial.  

We are introduced to a summary of the situation in Romans 2:1-6 with respect to God's Divine courtroom and man's moral crisis. The Bible reminds us of God's role as the Judge of all the earth. In Genesis 18:25 we read: "Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Or again, regarding God as the Divine judge, the Apostle Peter notes in 1 Peter 1:17 "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth."

In Romans 2:3 and 2:4 we are asked two interesting questions. Romans 2:3 states: "But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?" We understand that God is indeed the Divine judge, as seen in the above cross references. However, something else is said about God in Romans 2:4 "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" The same God who justly passes sentence on the guilty is the same God who desires to show mercy to them. All of us stand morally guilty before a holy righteous God outside of Jesus Christ, as indicated in Romans 2:5-6. So then, what exactly are the charges and the sentence being brought against humanity?

2. Charges & Sentencing Of Us All.     Romans 2:5-12
If we were to enumerate the various charges that God is bringing against each individual sinful human being and the entire race as whole, here is what we would find:

(Charges): Despising God’s kindness of common grace Romans 2:4 / Stubborn & Unrepentant Romans 2:5 / selfish, disobedient to truth Romans 2:8 / does evil Romans 2:9. 

God must past sentence on such a lot, since there is nothing left to do but deal with that which has chosen to trounce upon His peerless character and Holy name. So then, what sentence do we find that is pending over sinful human beings?

(Sentencing): Render according to deeds Romans 2:6 / wrath, indignation, tribulation, distress Romans 2:7-9 / perishing Romans 2:12. 

Other passages in the Bible describe this state of affairs concerning man's moral crisis and God's Divine judgment. John 3:16 indicates that unless we believe on Jesus Christ, we will perish, since He came to provide the opportunity to escape the final judgment.  John 3:36 states: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” So we see then the Divine Courtroom and our moral crisis, as well as the list of charges and sentencing brought against us. But now, the next question is: what witnesses are there to verify that we are indeed in a moral, spiritual crisis and that God's judgment is pending?

3. Chief Witnesses & Evidence.           Romans 2:12-27

As we go on down the text of Romans 2:12-27, we find to main witnesses on the stand of God's Divine courtroom that witness against our ability to please God on our own merit. 

First, there is the Law of God in Romans 2:12-14 and Romans 2:17-27. In the Bible we find the Law of God performing three functions: restraining cultural rebellion, convicting people of their need for salvation and giving a picture of how a forgiven life ought to be living in dependence upon Christ who alone fulfilled the law. Paul here is using the law of God in the second sense. 

Elsewhere in the Bible we find reference to this second use of the law in convicting men of their sins and need of salvation. Jesus says to the legalists of His day that: “the one who accuses you is Moses”, which is another way of referring to God's Law in the Ten Commandments, written by Moses. 

The Bible uses illustrations to convey the sense in which the Law of God points the way to the need for salvation. Proverbs 6:23 states that the Law of God is like a lamp: "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life."  James 1:23 describes God's Law as that mirror that tells me the truth: "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror." The Apostle Paul in Romans 7:7 likens the Law of God to that which awakens the sinner to the truth of their sin: "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” The Law of God bears witness concerning how unfit sinful man is to have relationship with Holy God outside of grace.

But there is a second witness, namely the human conscience. Romans 2:14-15 details for us how God's Law found in the Ten Commandments was also inscribed on the human heart. The conscience functions as the dashboard of the human soul. It gives off lights and sound when we've done something wrong or are considering such. Paul describes how our conscience affirms then accuses as an endless tide rolling in on the shorelines of our soul. Just as the ocean tide is governed by the invisible force of gravity exerted by the moon, the conscience is regulated by the invisible force of God's moral character stamped upon the human heart. 

The conscience of man has been described by the Puritan theologian Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) in his commentary on 2 Corinthians as follows with appropriate cross references: "A courtroom register (Jeremiah 17:1); accuses and defends (Romans 2:14-15); the conscience is a witness 2 Corinthians 1:12; The conscience judges 1 John 3:20-21; the conscience executes us when guilt is discovered 1 Samuel 24:5." 

More could be said - but the point is that the conscience, like God's written Law, witnesses that when we are placed in God's moral scales of judgment, we are found wanting.

Now so far, Paul's words here in Romans 2 sound heavy and grim - and rightly so! Apart from grace, I am a vile sinner in moral and spiritual crisis. The gavel of God is ready to come crashing down to pass down the sentence I deserve. But wait, this same Judge is also informing me that there is a court of appeals. Is that possible? Lets find out...

4. Your Only Court of Appeal.   Romans 2:4,7,10, 28-29

When Paul makes statements such as we find in Romans 2:7 "to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life", he is not advocating some sort of "works-salvation". Notice what the person who ends up having eternal life is seeking: "glory, honor, immortality". These are the things that true saving faith desires and which is made known by God's grace. We are saved by grace through faith apart from works unto a faith that works. James 2:26 echoes this point: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." So God's in His grace offers to me the Court of Appeal by way of the Gospel. He tells me I can live a life of faith that will be characterized as wanting immortality rather than this world; God's glory rather than my glory and honor rather than dishonor. 

In this court of appeal, I am offered the Supreme Advocacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 John 2:1-2 reminds us: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." Or again, Hebrews 7:24-25 "but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." 

It is because of Christ's work that the sinner in saving faith has the only appropriate, necessary and sufficient grounds for appeal. Faith alone sufficient and necessary to apprehend this work of the Advocate, which results in the Divine Judge dropping all the charges against us. Now later on in Romans Paul will name this legal working of God the Father (the Judge) and saving work of the Son credited to our account as "justification". 

So what happens if you and I refuse to go through this Divine appellate court? The best we can expect is to face an eternity under the Divine sentence and have the Devil as our attorney whom scripture indicates to be nothing but an accuser and prosecutor (Zechariah 3:1-5; Revelation 12:10) who duped our original parents in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6). In short then, the only court of appeal that we have is found in the Gospel, whereupon we enter to latch onto by faith our Mediator - The Lord Jesus Christ.  

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