Scripture reading: "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God" - Romans 2:1-11
We're turning again to Romans, the portion of Scripture that Eddie read to us from, and we want to think this evening about verses 1 to 11 under the title 'The Moral-Religious Myth'. But let us pray before we embark upon an explanation of the Scriptures, and ask the Lord's help again as we want to hear His word, and we want to encounter God Almighty through the preaching of the Scriptures. Do join with me in prayer that that indeed will be our experience tonight.
Let us pray: Father, we thank You for Your holy word. We thank You that it sets forth the revelation of God Himself, and You have declared Yourself through these pages, and chiefly in the record of the incarnation of Your beloved Son. So Lord, as we contemplate the great Gospel of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, we pray that You would give us understanding - but Lord, we want more than mere intellectual reason, we want a Holy Spirit quickening, we want to know the ministry of God's Spirit in our souls, opening us to the spiritual supernatural truths of the Gospel. Lord, no preacher or church can do that, so Lord, we implore You tonight in the Saviour's name to open blinded eyes and melt hardened hearts, and inspire broken and depraved wills to obey the gospel, be converted and repent of their sins and believe. For all of us, even those who profess to be Christians, we pray that the preaching of the word would restore us, revive us, and invigorate us again - knowing the great message that we have believed. Thanking You for everything that has gone before, undertake for us now for what we will receive. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
From time to time on a Sunday evening we revisit Paul's epistle to the Romans under the title of a series which will eventually be brought together as a collection when we finish it - if we ever finish it! - 'The Gospel Explained'. That's chiefly what we have in Paul's letter to the Romans, Romans is an inspired explanation of God's good news, the message that God has given to men whereby we may be saved. To put it as Paul puts it in this book: how a man or a woman can be right with God.
Now in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 1 he explains that this is his purpose in writing the book: 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein', that is, in the gospel, 'is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith'. Now he develops that truth of how a man can be right with God through the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, chiefly in chapter 3 verse 21 to chapter 5 verse 21, but before he tells us how a man or a woman can be right with God, he explains to us how men and women are wrong in relation to God. Of course, it presupposes that if he's going to teach that men need to be made right with God, that they are currently in a wrong relationship with the Almighty. To need God's righteousness, you must be unrighteous, sinful.
So Paul spends chapter 1 and chapter 2 proving how wrong mankind is in God's sight. In verse 18 we read of it in chapter 1: 'For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven', God's anger, 'against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness'. Right away there in chapter 1 verse 18, we enter into God's courtroom, and Paul the apostle, as God's representative, is indicting all mankind as being wrong before God. We begin to face an overwhelming amount of evidence of man's sinfulness. Now the first way he does this in chapter 1, we looked at the last time from verses 18 to 32, is that he presents God's case against the irreligious, the immoral pagans. He's probably speaking of the Gentiles, that is non-Jews. Now he doesn't mention Gentiles, but that's inferred - but though that may be the case, the fact of the matter is: all these descriptions and characteristics apply to everyone, every person born into this world could be described as he describes pagans in verses 18 to 32 of chapter 1.
But now what we are looking at tonight in chapter 2 verses 1 to 11, but right through to chapter 3 and verse 8, he indicts religious mankind - that means those who are outwardly moral as persons. We believe that he's speaking primarily to the Jewish race and religion, though he doesn't mention them, that's what seems to be inferred. He concludes, after having indicted irreligious immoral paganism before God as being unrighteous, he now concludes that those who are religious, those who are moral aren't any different! He just clumps them all together in this final conclusion and declaration that all men alike deserve God's judgement. He goes into great detail in chapter 3 verses 9 to 20 explaining this. But what I want you to note tonight under our title is that what Paul is doing effectively is: he is giving the lie to the moral-religious myth.
'The moral-religious myth - what is that?', you say. Well, the myth is one of betterment, betterment - put simply, those who believe that moral is better than immoral, religious is better than irreligious, good is better than bad, clean is better than dirty or filthy. You see, moral and religious establishments down through all the years of history have effectively created a spiritual class system. The belief is that the higher up the scale you are, the more acceptable you are with the rest of their particular society, and the more acceptable you are ultimately to God. But the great question is: is that right? Is it true? The problem is, for religious and moral people, if it isn't true: they are in great trouble, because this is the code that many people swear by. Many have built their life upon it as a foundation. They reason: 'Well, the better I am, the better I do, God will think the better of me' - but what says the Scriptures?
Paul comes and he exposes this myth that the moral and religious Jew, for instance, was better than the immoral and pagan Gentile. He says to us: 'No, they're no different - all men, whoever they are, pagan, religious, moral, immoral, are concluded under sin, and are the same in the eyes of God, being worthy of judgement'. Now how does he blow this moral-religious myth right out of the water? He does it, I believe, on two fronts that I want to share briefly with you tonight. The first is: he proves, this is the first piece of evidence, that both sin the same sins - both moral and immoral, religious and irreligious, good and bad living people sin the same sins.
Now, you see the Jews had set themselves up as a spiritual hierarchy, an elite, and effectively they made themselves judge, jury and executioner of all the Gentile nations and races round about them. In fact, they despised others who were not Jews as 'Gentile dogs'. They had national and religious pride that caused them to look down their noses on others. They condemned the idolatry that was in other nations and their immorality that out flowed from that religious idolatry - and yet what Paul tells them in these opening verses of chapter 2 is: 'You might be religious, but you are guilty of the same sins as they have committed'. Now, we read of some very gross sins in Romans chapter 1, such as homosexuality and lesbianism, and idolatry, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, and the Jew would have abhorred those sins as well. But even though they may not have been committing these sins in the flesh, they certainly were committing them in their minds and in their hearts.
As Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, even the lust after a woman was, in effect, to commit adultery. To hate your brother was, in effect, to commit the sin of murder. But there are also sins of the spirit mentioned in chapter 1 verse 29 and following. You can be filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, deceitful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful. Who of us even here tonight, however long we have professed Christian faith, cannot say that we have at least committed one of those offences. Paul is saying: 'You judge these pagans, these idolaters, but you who set yourselves up as judges are no different, because you commit the same sins as they do'.
You might say: 'Well, how did they think they would get away with such hypocrisy?'. Simply because they thought they were better because they had religion. The moral-religious myth: because they belonged to a religion, they thought that made them superior. Indeed, tradition of their day claimed that Abraham, the father of the faith, sat at the gate of hell to keep all Jews out regardless of their deeds and the sins that they committed. Many Jews believed that they were immune from God's anger and wrath against sin, why? Simply because they were Jews.
Now you might think that's ridiculous, unreasonable - but there are a lot of people on the streets of Belfast tonight, and they think because they're a Protestant, a son of William; or a Roman Catholic, a member of the one true infallible church supposedly, that that is their free ticket into heaven. It's all a myth, whether it's moral or religious. Those even who have not got a particular religion, because they believe they don't do anybody any harm, and they help their neighbour and love every one, they think that if there is a God in the end, God must let them enter into His heaven because of their morality. Yet in effect, these Jews who Paul was speaking to, they used and abused their religion as a cover for sin. They used it as a smokescreen. Just as in verse 18 of chapter 1 Paul condemns the pagans for suppressing God's truth in unrighteousness, the Jews had suppressed God's truth with religion, under a religious-moral guise they sinned the same sins as the whole world.
Now we might ask: where did they go wrong? Here's the first way they went wrong, you make sure you don't make the same mistake. One: they failed to see that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart, and God judges the heart. Do you realise that the problem that you have is not an external one, but an internal one? In 1 Samuel 16:7 we read: 'For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart'. God is concerned more with the internal and external, yet religion is more concerned on the whole with the external than the internal. That is because God knows that the problem is the heart, Jesus in Matthew 15 said as much when He said: 'For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person', speaking to religious Pharisees, 'But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone'. Do you know tonight that the heart of your problem is the problem of the heart, and God judges the heart?
As one said rightly: you can put a pig in a dinner jacket and sit him to the dining table, it will not be long after it starts eating that you'll realise, tuxedo and silver service or not, he's still a pig and has a pig's manners. You can dress up a sinner with external religious garb, but all that will do will hide them under the guise of religion, and will in some way shield their sin - but deep down in the depths of their soul, their heart is no different to the most pagan idolater in the back end of the darkest jungle. Jeremiah 13:23 says: 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin', the inference is no, 'or the leopard his spots?', no. 'Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil'. The Jews thought that their religion, because it cleaned the outward appearance, was able to save their soul - but it didn't affect the heart.
Here's the second mistake they made. They didn't realise that morals and religion can prove as much a disadvantage as an advantage. Did you hear that? Morals and religion can prove as much a disadvantage as an advantage. These Jews had been given the land of Israel, they had been given the law of God, the Ten Commandments you know them as. They had been given a holy priesthood of sacrifices to bring them to God, and God had sent Messiah, Jesus Christ, to them. They had been taught from their inception as a nation the difference between right and wrong, yet they chose the wrong! The lesson there is: to know something of God, and to know truth more than others know it, makes you more responsible. That's why morals and religion can be as much of a disadvantage as an advantage, because the more you know of the Bible, the more you know of Christianity, the more you know of what is right and what is wrong, the more God holds you responsible!
Religion or morals is not a cloak to allow you to be irresponsible and get away with it, but verse 4 of chapter 2 says we must always beware of despising the riches of God's goodness, His forbearance and long-suffering toward us - because God will be more severe on those who have a knowledge of Himself, and know all about Christ and His death on the cross, and His resurrection, and His ability through faith and repentance to change lives and forgive sins. If you are religious but you sin the same sins, do you realise that your religion and your seeming external morality is a disadvantage? Your knowledge of good and your knowledge of God should lead you, verse 4 says, to repentance. God's goodness to you in giving you that knowledge should cause you to turn from your sin, not turn to it!
I don't want to seem to be sacrilegious in any way this evening, but I have to say that many people in Northern Ireland use God like a religious forgiveness machine. They put a prayer in and they think forgiveness comes out. The more sin you want to sin, the more religion you put in - and the Roman Catholic will go to confessional, and the Protestant thinks: 'Well, I can sin and then go to church, and pray a simple prayer and a little talk with Jesus will make it all right'. My friend, that is not how it works! God's goodness, God's gospel, God's grace must lead you to repentance! Repentant faith is what God requires, for it is faith that turns away from sin and embraces Christ and His Lordship that will change the life.
God's free grace and Christ's precious blood are not to be presumed on to get you a quick fix when the sinful notion takes you. Praise God this evening, 1 John 1 verse 7 tells us, and it is true, that: 'the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin'. But let it also be said this evening that that verse, and the truth of the gospel and the blood of Christ, can't be used in a scheming way - it's not to be used like a loophole for immoral living, that 'I can live like I want, and I can sin as I desire, and God will just forgive me in the end because Christ has died for sinners'. No. Paul says the goodness of God, no matter how religious or irreligious you are, God's goodness must lead you to repentance. That means, this is what repentance is: a change of mind about your sin and God, and a change of heart that eventually, through faith in Christ, changes your life.
So that means, if you're religious tonight, you've got to admit your sin, and that you sin the same sins as anyone, even if it's in your heart alone - but if you're immoral tonight, you've got to confess your sins, and admit them also. If God's goodness doesn't lead you to repentance, what happens then? He tells us in verse 5: your heart becomes harder, and you store up wrath for the day of judgement with God. How much wrath do you think you have totted up on God's books? Religious or irreligious, you sin the same sins, you break the same law, you have the same depraved, wicked heart.
Here's the second and final piece of evidence he produces to expose the moral-religious myth. Not only do both moral and immoral people sin the same sins, but they both face the same judgement. Because the Jew did the same things as the Gentiles did, therefore Paul concludes they both have the same status before God in judgement. In verse 6 we read: 'Who will render to every man according to his deeds'. God is going to judge us according to evil works. Those who are unrepentant and unbelieving will be judged according to the sins they have sinned, their unbelieving impenitent heart. If you are not obedient to the truth, Paul says, look at it, there will be wrath and fury, there will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil. The only difference, Paul says, between the religious and the irreligious in judgement is that the religious will be judged first!
Look at verse 9: 'Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile'. Why is the Jew first in judgement? Because of their privileges! Because they were the first to get the gospel, and because of the failure of the gift of God's goodness to lead them to repentance before God, they will be judged for it! The greater the good, the greater the responsibility. Now I want to ask you tonight: what privileges has God given you? I'll tell you one: God has allowed you to be born in a country where the gospel is freely preached. Christians aren't being locked up for preaching the Gospel yet, and you're here tonight listening, and maybe you've been brought up in a home where the gospel was the environment and atmosphere that you breathed constantly - you were sent to Sunday School, you went along to church, you were taught the Bible stories, you were prayed for, you were witnessed to. Maybe you watched a father or a mother, or a husband or a wife - I'm asking you tonight: have these good things that God has given you led you to repentance and faith? If it hasn't, do you know what that is? It is a storing up of God's wrath for the day of judgement, and it is hardening your heart!
But more importantly than those things, do you know what the greatest good that God has ever given to you is? Jesus Christ. I wonder this evening are you still unmoved when you view the greatest goodness God has ever given? The hymn writer could say:
'When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the young Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride'.
You see religious pride, morality, matters nothing - because Christ died for the same sins that you sin, that everybody else sins. He was judged so that you would not stand before God as a judge, and be judged for those same sins that everybody sins. Were the whole realm of nature yours, that would be an offering far too small - the only thing that God can accept is what He did accept, and that is the blood of His Son as He was punished for your sins. I ask you tonight: that is God's goodness towards you, do you not value the blood of the Son of God? Is it nothing to you what He suffered? How will you ever escape God's judgement, if the death of His Son does not melt your heart and turn you from your evil ways?
Let me tell you tonight, the good news is in verse 11, that God is no respecter of persons. Listen to me: to all who sin the same sins, and incur the same judgement - moral, immoral, religious, irreligious, good, bad - He offers the same grace, grace for religious sins, and grace for immoral sins. God's goodness is shown tonight in that He offers that grace to you.
It is before you, God's goodness: Jesus hung there between two thieves, God's wrath being poured out upon His soul. We're not talking now about the fists and nails and the thorns, we're talking about hell in His heart for your sin and mine. He was punished for you, my friend, that is God's goodness and it ought to lead you to repentance. If you're religious, you need to know that your morality, and your keeping of commandments, and your sacraments, and your church membership means nothing in God's sight - all that can get you into heaven is that precious blood of Jesus. If you're immoral, you need to know the same: that cleaning yourself up and becoming religious will take you to hell faster than the sin you're dabbling in now. Whoever you are tonight, there's only one way: that is through the Lord Jesus and His cross. What you must do tonight is turn from your sin, at least be willing to turn from it, and believe in the Lord Jesus - that means embrace the gospel. Say, just like this: 'Lord Jesus, I confess I am a sinner, and I thank You that You died for my sins and have purchased my salvation. Save me now, make me Your child as I make You my Lord. Amen'.
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 fourth recording in his 'The Gospel Explained' series, entitled "The Moral-Religious Myth" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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