Friday, May 23, 2014

Romans 2: Judged by Our Conscience

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Rom 2:1-16 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.  For all who have sinned without the  Lwill also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

A perennial question asked by pre-believers regards the fairness of God in judging those outside the covenants: "What about those who have never heard of Christ? Are they condemned?" Both Peter and Paul affirm that our God "shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11) to all people who have no knowledge of Christ, whether Jews or Gentiles. While the Jews have the Law of Moses, the Gentiles have the Law of Conscience, but everyone will be judged according to the law they have (whether Moses or Conscience): "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Rom 2:14-16).

Whether Jews or Gentiles, we are judged by the light we have received: "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law" (Rom 2:12). The Jews will be judged by the revelation they have received through the Law of Moses while the Gentiles who do not have Scriptures will be judged according to the law within their hearts, viz., their conscience. The more light we have received, the higher is God's standard of judgment: "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48). The Jews will be judged with greater severity because they have the Scriptures, unlike the Gentiles. But the foundation of God's acceptance or rejection will be based on Christ's work at the Cross: "God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (v.16).

So, as far as Paul is concerned, the Gentiles have the law written in their hearts (conscience) to make moral judgement. For we are created in the image of a moral God and so God's moral image is implanted within our hearts; we have no excuse that we "don't know". Our conscience judges our actions by approving or reproving us--even when we were non-believers. We knew instinctively it was wrong to steal--so when we did it we make sure no one was watching. We knew instinctively it was wrong to lie--so we felt a twinge of guilt when we told a lie. We knew instinctively that love is good and right--so we seek it in all our relationships. We needed no law-book to tell us what is right or wrong--God has implanted his moral conscience within the divine image we possess.  Though our conscience is imperfect because it has been distorted by sin, it is part of our common humanity we inherited as God's creatures. 

The indictment against people outside the covenants is not that they do not believe the Gospel but that they do not live according to God's built-in moral code in their hearts. Instead of using this internal moral guide to judge their own conduct, they use it to judge others: "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things" (Rom 2:1-2). Jesus calls this hypocrisy.

The current hacking-accusation by US against Chinese officials has been dubbed "hypocrisy" by the Chinese government because it says that the US National Security Agency has been hacking into everyone's personal phone and data in US and around the globe. Some twisted minds have suggested Jesus' Golden Rule is read by hypocrites as: "Do unto others first before they do it unto you!"

So, God is fair to all who are outside the covenants--He judges them by the light they have received. So they are without excuse. Paul calls this first principle of divine judgment based on the law written on our hearts as "my gospel."  But this is only the beginning of Paul's gospel--it is a necessary starting point. For all who proclaim the Gospel to pre-believers, this fact must be firmly established: that all have sinned as judged by our conscience. This is the "Bad News" of the Gospel that explains sin and divine judgement. But until the hearers understand the "Bad News" (problem) they will not be ready to listen to the "Good News" (solution).

A church puts out a sign outside their gate: "Jesus is the Answer". A passer-by scribbled a note under it: "But what is the Question?"

Father, thank You that Your Word has explained the Bad News to us before You tell us the Good News. Amen.

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