This sermon is number 5 in our current series
The Gospel Explained - Part 5
"The Long Arm Of The Law"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2007 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want you to turn with me to Romans chapter 2, and on and off these Sunday evenings we've been dipping into Paul's epistle to the Romans, which I feel is one of the most important books in the whole of the Bible - because it explains to us what the message is that God wants men and women to know on this earth. So if you want to know if God has anything to say to you tonight, or be it at any time, the book of Romans is an ideal one to dip into. Now it's not always easy to understand, but I'm going to try my best to explain it to you tonight simply. Now the reading we have tonight is quite difficult, but there are great nuggets of truth in it, and I hope to extract those for you in a moment or two.
Let's read the word of God, Romans chapter 2 and verse 11 - the last verse that we looked at the last time we were looking at Romans on a Sunday evening. Paul says in Romans 2:11: "For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel", and we end our reading at verse 16.
Let's bow in a short word of prayer together: Father, we thank You, those of us who can say tonight that our sins are rolled away, they have been put into the tomb where Christ was buried. They have been buried, and Christ has risen, and they have been left behind. We thank You that they are as far as East is from the West. You have put them behind Your back, they are in the depths of the sea of Your forgetfulness, Lord, and we thank You that it's all because of the Lord Jesus. But Lord there are people here tonight, and they have never come to this awareness, so Lord help them, we pray. Thank you for saving Scott, thank You for saving me, each of us here tonight who have been saved thank You for saving us - but Lord, save another tonight for Your glory, and let us all rejoice in the wonder of Your gospel. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
The last time we were studying in the book of Romans, we looked at how Paul in verses 1-11 gives the lie to what I called 'The Moral-Religious Myth' - that is, simply, that many people have believed this moral-religious myth which is that they think moral people are better than immoral people, good people are better than bad people, clean people are better than dirty people, religious people are better than irreligious people, good-living people are better than bad-living people. But Paul blows this perception right out of the water by the truth of God's word, and he does this in verse 3 where he says there is no difference between good-living and bad-living people, religious and irreligious people, Jewish people and Gentile people - who he is speaking to at this time - because both groups sin the same sins. Look at verse 3: 'Thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them', he's speaking to religious people who look down their noses at irreligious folk - 'You do the things that they do, do you think that you will escape the judgement of God?'.
You see, religiosity and morality in one sense is a myth, if we think that it will in some way commend us to God, and make us essentially better in God's eyes - because all of us sin the same sins! So none of us have a reason to think that we're better than another. Then the second arrow in his bow is found in verse 6, because he not only tells them, 'Look, you religious people sin the same sins as irreligious people', but 'Both you and irreligious people are going to face the same judgement'. Verse 6: 'Who will', that is God, 'render to every man according to his deeds'. We read in verse 11 tonight that God is no respecter of persons, no one will get off with not being judged - religious or irreligious, good or bad, clean or dirty. Everyone will be judged, and all will face the same judgement. So you can see how clearly and categorically he answered the lie of the moral-religious myth.
Now he comes in our passage this evening to the basis on which God will judge all sinners, irrespective of whether or not they are religious. Just as any judge in our own society here in the United Kingdom, or anywhere in the world, judges according to the letter of the law of that land, that principality and sovereign nation, God will do exactly the same. God will judge all sinners who sin the same sins with the same law. That's what I want to say to you tonight from these verses: both sin the same sins, both will face the same judgement - but here's our point tonight: both will be judged by the same standard. Religious people and irreligious people, moral and immoral, good and bad, clean and dirty will be judged by the law of Almighty God.
Let me pause for a moment there: have you ever thought about the day when you stand before God and He judges you according to His law? What a sobering question. What a quickening thought. This is not pie-in-the-sky, this is God's truth, and Revelation 20 tells us of that event. John was given prophetic gift to see it, and we read his account of what it will be like. John says: 'I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire'.
Have you ever stopped in your life one moment to think about the day when you will stand before God and be judged by His law? Amos 4:12: 'Therefore, thus will I do unto thee: and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God'. That's what I'm here for tonight, that's what we're conducting this meeting for tonight: so that you might have an opportunity to prepare for that day, the day when you will stand before God and be judged by His law.
What is His law? That's the first question I want to answer for you, that you might be prepared. Well, He declares clearly in His word, Exodus 20. You know it as the Ten Commandments, maybe you didn't know you knew it. They are: 1) Do not have other gods before Him, as the Living God, Jehovah - there is only one God. 2) You are not to make any graven images, no idols, don't worship pieces of wood or stone, don't worship a false god, or a picture, or an icon, because God is invisible, He is spirit, and He is the only true God to be worshipped, and you can't make an image of Him. 3) Do not take the Lord's name in vain, that's not just swearing, that's pretending that you're religious, or that you're Christian and really deep down you're not, and your life betrays that fact. 4) Remember the Sabbath day, there's a rest principle in our lives, and a rest before God. 5) Honour your father and your mother, and then you'll have a long life, the law says. 6) Don't kill. 7) Don't commit adultery. 8) Don't steal. 9) Don't lie. 10) Don't covet, want something, lust after something that belongs to another.
Well, there it is, simply answered, that's what God's law is - that is the standard by which you will be judged. Now here's the second question that I derive from our passage tonight: what will happen to those who don't have this law? You see, there are places in our world, and they don't have a Bible, they don't have a preacher, they don't have even churches, they don't have missionaries. They have never heard the name of Christ, and they certainly do not know the Ten Commandments - what will happen to them? Then another question related to that is: what about people who do have the Ten Commandments, but don't want them, don't feel inclined to obey them? Can God rightly and fairly judge people who just don't agree with them?
Let's think about the first, first of all: people who may never hear the Ten Commandments or the Gospel. Well, our portion tonight says they will still be judged according to God's law. Now right away you say: 'That's not fair! How can God judge them with something they've never heard about, or don't even know they have to live up to?'. Well, Paul tells us they may not have a Bible, but if you look at verse 14, Paul says that in doing by nature the things required by the law, in other words by not murdering because they know it's wrong to murder, by not stealing because they know it's wrong to steal, by not committing adultery because they know faithfulness is what should be desired, by honouring their parents they reveal that they are - verse 14 - a law for themselves.
Now Paul spells out in verse 15 what he means: the requirements of the law are written on their hearts. They may not have the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20, or reciprocated in other portions of the Bible, but Paul says everyone everywhere has an actual instinct in their heart, which is the requirements of God's law that He has put in our heart. Now, I don't know if you're an atheist here tonight, or an agnostic, but do you know that whatever morality is in your life, that is living proof that there is a God? Huh, never thought of that one, have you? You're looking evidence that someone can present to you that there is a God, or maybe you're just not sure and you want something that's so clear - well here it is! Your desire to do the right thing, to live a right life, even if it's only before men and you don't even believe in God - that is the requirements of God's law that's written on your heart! It's proof that there's a God! So by your occasional conformity to God's law, you are showing that you have an unconscious knowledge of what God demands of men and women! Do you see it? That's how your conscience knows instinctively what is right and what is wrong: your heart knows the requirements of God's law, so your conscience acts correspondingly.
It's the same wherever you go, wherever you go in this world you will find people that have an inner sense of right and wrong, even if it be very warped. They have this inner judge called the conscience, one of the greatest friends you will ever have. You find among all cultures, colours, and creeds a sense of sin, a sense of judgement, a sense of a need to attempt to atone and deal with your sins, and cover them over or appease a God that is angry at you, and you fear because of your sin. There is a human instinct which is the reason for religion across the world, the world is not predominantly atheist or agnostic, it is religious because this instinct in man is as old as man, and no anthropologist or psychologist can explain it away! It's simply because the requirements of God's law have been written on your heart.
What about people who have never had the Bible? There's your answer: they will perish if they have been disobedient to this law, which they have. Now you say: 'But hold on a minute, what about people who reject God's law?'. Well, I want to say to you: does anyone completely reject the Ten Commandments? Well, you might find one somewhere I suppose, but most people generally adhere in some way to them. Even if you're an atheist in this place tonight, you don't know how religious you are! You go about your daily business every day of your life, unconsciously perhaps, trying to keep God's law. You don't go about killing people, do you? You try your best not to tell lies when you can, not to steal what belongs to others. You try to be faithful with your wife - that's God's requirements written on your heart, and I know you break many of these laws, for we all do; but that is the reason why you will be judged by God's laws, because you have an instinctive capacity to know right from wrong that God has gifted you with, and God will judge you by it.
So nobody can say, as Paul said, 'It's not fair to judge people who don't know the Ten Commandments', or 'It's not fair to judge people who don't feel inclined to keep the Ten Commandments'. So Paul has, in this first chapter of Romans, pleaded with us that God has revealed Himself in creation - do you remember that from chapter 1 and verse 20? 'For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that all are without excuse'. You see nature, you see creation that comes from a causal, inventive hand of God. But now he's bringing, along with creation in his argument, the commands of God - which are not only written on two tablets of stone by the finger of God, that Moses carried down Mount Sinai, the requirements of that law are written on your heart, and your conscience responds to it.
Can I ask you this evening, as we get personal: what shape is your conscience in? One of the greatest gifts He has given to you, that is God, is your conscience - I wonder do you listen to your conscience or do you silence your conscience? Do you know what silencing your conscience is, when God tells you in your heart that something you're going to do is wrong, and you just silence it and do it anyway? It's like going home tonight and taking the batteries out of your smoke alarm, and then going to sleep with a cigarette in your mouth. That's what it's like - oh, you'll get a good night's sleep, and a wee bit of stress relieved by the drag, but you might wake up in hell in the morning. It's a warning system that God has given to you in order that you might know that you're taking a wrong road.
I heard a story recently about a drunk who was waddling home as he was accustomed to do every night, and as he approached his front door his little dog, his best friend, was sitting there waiting on him as usual. He watched the little dog to see how he would fare, and then he came in through the door and staggered into his bed, and unconsciously fell. In the middle of the night the dog started barking. The man, not wanting to miss his night's sleep, got up and shouted at the dog, lifted a chair and threw it at the dog, and the dog shut up. When the man woke up in the morning, half sober, he saw that his house had been burgled, everything he owned had been taken, and all that was left was a broken chair and a dead dog. His best friend was trying to warn him, but he silenced him, and the silencing of him was tragic.
My friend, God has written the requirements of His law on your heart so that you know what is wrong and what is right. Maybe you have started to lose the perception of what is wrong and what is right, because you don't listen any more! It has been so long since you have listened, that you think: 'I don't do much wrong, I don't do anybody any harm', and you don't realise that you're a lawbreaker, and you're guilty before God, and God's going to judge you!
Here's our final question, which is the converse of these people who don't have God's law, or don't want to listen to God's law, and it's those who try to keep God's law. What will happen to those who try to keep God's law? Well, these are the people I believe Paul was talking to, the Jews who boasted in the law. They believed they were superior to these pagan Gentiles who were falling down to pieces of wood and stone. Paul is telling them: 'You've missed the point completely! If God finds these Gentiles guilty, who have been deprived from having on the written page the Ten Commandments, the traditions of the religion of Judaism - who have copies of the law that they carry and cherish - how more guilty are you going to be, you privileged people?'.
Oh, there is a principle there for us all: privileges bring responsibilities. You could be an atheist living in Northern Ireland, and you have had greater spiritual privileges than some pagan in the back end of the Amazon jungle who has never heard of Christ and never seen a Bible; because you know what a Bible is, you know who Jesus Christ is, you know what the Christian church is with all its faults, you know that there is a hell, you know that there is a heaven - you've heard, yet you still haven't believed. Maybe you have had privileges, like Scott, from an early age - what have you done with them? You know, there are parts of hell that are hotter for the privileged. I wonder will your place in hell be there?
Paul wanted to be clear: 'Look it's not the possession of the law that counts you Jews, it is the practice. Not hearing, but doing!'. Now, what's your conclusion? 'So, you're telling us to go away and get these Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, and keep them all?'. Well, if you do that, you'll do what many people have tried to do, including the Jews. You'll try to practise it, and maybe you'll perfect it outwardly for a while, and fulfil some of the external requirements - and many religious people are trying to do that in our land today. They call themselves Protestants, Roman Catholics, some of the cults, and even other religions are trying to keep their laws and regulations and system of ethics. Now here's the problem, and it's found in verse 16: God judges the secrets of men's hearts by Jesus Christ.
So you can doctor the outside with religion, with rites, practices, sacraments; but Jesus has come to us and He has revealed the complete law of God - what is that? That it's not just about killing someone and committing adultery that in God's eyes is wrong, but Jesus says that if you have a lustful thought in your mind it's adultery, if you have a hateful feeling in your heart it's murder! The whole New Testament tells us that if we only break one of God's laws, it's like breaking the spoke of a wheel, we have broken the whole thing! We're lawbreakers!
When God sees into your heart, what does He see? I don't care how moral you think you are, friend, because I know what's in my heart. I know what's often in my head, and God can see it, and God is going to judge it if you're not forgiven that. The secrets that are hidden in men's hearts, one day those private sins are going to become open scandals! Sometimes when you preach like I'm preaching tonight on the Ten Commandments, people say: 'Are you trying to make me feel guilty, quoting these Ten Commandments?'. You see if that's your reaction, well, I say to you: doesn't the Bible say don't lie, don't steal, don't commit adultery? If you feel guilty when you hear that, why do you think you feel guilty? Only that you lie, you steal, you lust: because you're guilty, that's why you feel guilty!
God's word says in the Psalms: 'If the Lord should mark iniquities', and He does mark our iniquities, 'O Lord, who should stand in Your sight?'. I'll tell you, there's not one of us here, or one of us in Ulster, or one of us here in the world who could stand before God because they had never committed a sin. So what is Paul is saying? There is no difference between you religious people and irreligious people, both of you are lawbreakers, both of you are going to be judged by the same standard, both of you are going to suffer the same penalty. Now you might say: 'Well then, is God some kind of sadist? Why does He give us this law anyway, if even the religious can't keep it? Well verse 20 of chapter 3 says clearly: 'Through the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in God's sight', but here's the key, look at it: 'for by the law is the knowledge of sin'. God never gave the Ten Commandments to justify you before God, He gave the Ten Commandments to magnify your sin, that you might know you need the mercy of God! Do you understand? So, you trying to live up to it is a waste of your time! Whilst it's good not to steal, not to lie, and not to lust; it will never make you just before God.
Do you know what you should be saying here tonight? This is what's missing in meetings like this, you should be saying: 'What hope is there for me now?' - or as they said in the New Testament: 'What will we do now?'. Do you feel like that? If you don't, forget all this church business. There is no hope for you. Forget it now, I'm telling you. If you don't feel: 'What hope have I now? For I have seen God's holy law, and I am guilty, and I am judged! There's nothing I can do to amend my ways that are past. Even if I reform my life in the future, I can't erase the past'. My friend, listen: you will perish without law, the Bible says, and you will perish with law. So if you've never heard it, or you don't want to live up to it, you will perish. If you try to live up to it, you can't live up to it, so you will perish. But listen: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life'.
Judgement is coming. Whether you don't know God's law, it's coming. Whether you don't want to know God's law, it's coming. Whether you try to keep it and can't, it's coming. Do you know what the need is? Sinners need to settle out of court. There is an option tonight, and it's called grace. 'On what grounds can I have forgiveness, can I have pardon?' - it's not on the grounds of law now, it's not on the grounds of how good you can get, it's not on the grounds of anything to do with you or your morality, it's on the grounds of Calvary where Jesus came, God's Son, the perfect Man, and died on the cross, bearing your shame. He was reckoned a lawbreaker, so that lawbreakers might be pardoned! Galatians 3: 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree'. He was cursed for you. Oh, that God would give you eyes to see tonight, my friend, a mind to understand, ears to hear, a heart to perceive: Christ died for the broken law. First Peter 3: 'Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit'.
He died for sinners, He died for lawbreakers, He died for mankind. Oh, so often I'm asked this question, maybe you're thinking it: 'How could God send me to hell? You know, I'm not Hitler, I never abused anyone, I'm not a terrorist. I go to church, I do my best, I help my neighbour, I try not to fight with the wife'. The verse that I answer with is what Paul said in Galatians 2:21: 'I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain'. Do you know what that means? You see if you can get to heaven on your morality trip? God wasted the blood of His own Son, for it wasn't really necessary. Now my friend, if that's your viewpoint, you're lost - for without the shedding of Christ's blood, there is no forgiveness of sin, because it is the only way.
If you repent of your sin tonight, and accept it, you will be saved. If you hold on to your sin and your self-righteousness, and reject it, you will be lost. The long arm of the law touches all of us, whoever we are - but may the grace of the God of Calvary envelop every single sinner in this place tonight, that you might be sheltered from the judgement of God and say:
'Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
In flaming worlds of judgement, if in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand on that great day;
None to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved in these I am'.
Will you embrace Christ tonight, as He is freely offered in this Gospel message?
Father, give grace to repent and believe; for men and even Your own redeemed people have no real perception of what the lawbreaker deserves, and what the lawbreaker will inherit. Lord, may people in this gathering tonight flee from the wrath to come. Search hearts, even those who think they are saved, some of these young people - may they make their calling and election sure - some of the older folk ready to pass into eternity, Lord, grant that they are not resting on a life of morality and religiosity, but life that is resting on Christ alone and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. Oh, hear our prayer, and may none be standing on any other ground than the solid ground of Christ. Amen.
Don't miss part 6 of 'The Gospel Explained': "The Certainty Of Salvation - Past, Present and Future"
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth recording in his 'The Gospel Explained' series, entitled "The Long Arm Of The Law" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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