Pastor David B. Curtis


Judgment According to Works

Romans 2:5-10

Delivered 01/23/2011

We began last week to look at Romans 2:1-16, which sets forth the principles of divine judgment. We see in these verses that God judges according to truth or reality; he points this out in the first 4 verses. We looked at these last week. We also see that God judges according to works; he points this out in verse 5 through verse 11. And he will conclude the section by pointing out that God judges impartially. So He judges according to reality. He judges according to works. He judges impartially.

It is important to understand that in these verses Paul is using here a literary style called diatribe. Diatribe was a well-known way of teaching truth. In this style, the writer engages in debate with imaginary opponents, putting them on the spot, asking them rhetorical questions, answering their supposed objections. Paul creates a double audience: the real one (the Christians in Rome) and the hypothetical opponent--the Jewish interlocutor.

We ended last week with verse 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? Romans 2:4 NASB

In this section dealing with the wrath of God we see God's kindness. God is by nature kind, tender-hearted, compassionate. In talking to the Jewish interlocutor Paul asks the rectorial question, "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness?" This requires a yes answer; Israel had experienced the kindness of God. They were given the Law of God and the covenants and the promises and the Messiah, and as we saw last week, they thought lightly of them.

This kindness of God should have led them to repentance, but instead they were storing up wrath:

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Romans 2:5 NASB

"Because of your subbornness and unrepentant heart"--the Greek word for stubbornness here is sklerotes, which translates a root term that is used in the medical world to refer to hardening of the arteries, "arteriosclerosis." "Sclerosis" refers to something hardened, or morally and religiously stubborn.

Ezekiel talked about Israel being hard hearted:

yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me. Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate. Ezekiel 3:7 NASB

Jesus talked about the Jews of His day having hard hearts:

He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. Mark 3:1 NASB
After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Mark 3:5 NASB

The Jews of Paul's day were hard hearted toward the Gospel. Stephen, in his speech to the Jewish leaders, said:

"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Acts 7:51 NASB

The word "stiff-necked" is from the Greek word sklerotrachelos, which comes from our word "sklerotes." Moses used this expression to describe the Israelites when they rebelled against God and worshiped the golden calf (cf. Exod. 33:5; Deut. 9:13).

The Sanhedrin was guilty of unresponsiveness to God's word and of betraying and murdering the Righteous One (v.52). By rejecting Jesus, the Sanhedrin was doing just what their forefathers had done in rejecting God's other anointed servants, such as Joseph and Moses. While Stephen's hearers had undergone physical circumcision, and were proud of it, they were uncircumcised in their heart and responsiveness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Jewish thought human inability to obey was located in an uncircumcised heart. Jewish disobedience to the Gospel shows that they did not have a circumcised heart:

"Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. Deuteronomy 30:6 NASB

Paul goes on in Romans 2:5 to tell these Jews, "You are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God"-- the words "storing up" are from the Greek word thesaurizeis from which we get the term "thesaurus," which is a treasury of words. But the treasure that is stored up due to stubbornness and unrepentance here is "wrath."

This speaks of an eschatological wrath. They were to experience this wrath on the Day of the LORD. The Jews believed in a coming judgment:

But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. Psalms 9:7-8 NASB
Before the LORD, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. Psalms 96:13 NASB

So the Jews believe that God was going to judge, but Paul makes it clear to them that the coming Judge is Jesus Christ:

on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:16 NASB

This is the same thing that he said to the Athenians:

because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Acts 17:31 NASB

The Lord Jesus Christ is the judge of all men. Paul goes on to say, "Having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Jesus Christ, repeatedly told His followers that He would judge the world. Though He was put to death by the Jews, God raised Him from the dead. And by raising Him from the dead, God set His seal on the doctrines He taught; one of these doctrines was that He would judge the world. His resurrection is an incontestable proof that He will judge the world, according to His own declaration.

Since the verbal revelation of God is now extending to the whole earth, the wrath of God is being poured out on all who reject the Gospel. The Gospel and the judgment are connected. This is what the Hebrew Scriptures taught in Isaiah:

Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" Isaiah 40:9 NASB

Connected with the announcement of the Gospel, the good news was wrath on those who rejected it:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, With His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him And His recompense before Him. Isaiah 40:10 NASB

These are words of judgment. Those that obeyed this Gospel that Paul preached would be saved, but to those who do not obey it will suffer wrath.

I think that all Christians would agree that Jesus Christ has been appointed by the Father to be the judge of the inhabited earth. But a real disagreement arises when you discuss when the judgment is to take place. The majority of believers view it as still future. Even unbelievers view it as future; they talk about and end of the earth in December of 2012.

When the New Testament talks about judgment, it is always something that is near to them, something that is to happen soon, which would mean to us it is past. Notice what Jesus said about the coming judgment:

"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. Matthew 16:27 NASB

Here we see that Christ is coming with His angels and, "WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS." This is the same First Testament quote that we see in our text in Romans 2:6. This is talking about judgment! When is this judgment to happen? When does this verse say it will happen? You can't see it in the NASB, but in the Greek the words "is going to" are mello, which means: "about to." Whenever mello in the present active indicative is combined with an infinitive, it is consistently translated "about to." Vine translates mello here as: "The Son of Man is about to come."

Now you may question the validity of mello, so look at what Jesus says in the very next verse:

"Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Matthew 16:28 NASB

The "you" here refers to Jesus' disciples; Matthew 16:24 says, "Then Jesus said to His disciples." Jesus says to the twelve that "some" of them would not die until they saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Judgment was to come at the Second Coming of Christ, which was to happen within the lifetime of the disciples. This judgement was not some far distant event, it was to happen in that generation:

"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Matthew 24:34 NASB

Jesus here, very plainly and very clearly, tells His disciples that ALL of the things He had mentioned would come to pass in THEIR GENERATION. This includes the Gospel being preached in all the world, the abomination of desolation, the great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of man. Biblically, a generation is forty years. So Jesus' coming and the judgment had to take place within the generation that was then living.

In Luke's "Olivet Discourse," Jesus linked the wrath against this people with the coming armies of Rome surrounding Jerusalem and burning the city down:

"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. "Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Luke 21:20-22 NASB

When Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, he said:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Timothy 4:1 NASB

Here "who is to" is mello. Paul again is telling his first century readers that Jesus is about to judge the living and the dead. This is to happen at His appearing! Christ's Second Coming was a coming in judgment.

Paul also told Felix and Drusilla that judgment was "about to come":

and he reasoning concerning righteousness, and temperance, and the judgment that is about to be, Felix, having become afraid, answered, `For the present be going, and having got time, I will call for thee;' Acts 24:25 YLT

If this universal judgment took place in A.D. 70 as the Scriptures clearly teach, what about people today, when do those who lived past A.D. 70 get judged? That's a good question, I'm glad that you asked it. When do believers get judged? Believers were judged and sentenced in Christ Jesus. He paid our penalty in full:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1 NASB

The word "condemnation" is the Greek word katakrima, which means: "judgment." Christ boar our judgment, there is no judgment for us. We share Christ's righteousness.

What about unbelievers today, when do they get judged?:

"He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:18 NASB

Unbelievers are already under wrath, they are separated from God; at physical death they will forever and always be separated from God, Who is life.

God's longsuffering and His forbearance was poured out to Israel, but finally the end was reached. And in the year of A.D. 70 Israel was crushed and scattered to the four corners of the world in divine judgment after that forty years of patience.

We see in this text in Romans that not only is God's judgment according to reality; it is also According To Works.


Paul quotes here from Psalms:

And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, For You recompense a man according to his work. Psalms 62:12 NASB

This verse is clearly in Paul's mind, it speaks about God's kindness and judgment:

If you say, "See, we did not know this," Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? Proverbs 24:12 NASB

In other words, judgment will not accord with your Jewishness or Gentile status, or your intellect or family or race or nationality or any such thing. It is based on what you do:

to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. Romans 2:7-8 NASB

Look at verse 8 for a moment. To those who do not obey the truth, He gives indignation and wrath. Kind of interesting words. Indignation is from the Greek word thumos, the root of this word means: "to rush along, to be in a hurry, to be in a heat or a sweat, to breathe violently." It is someone moving fast, breathing violently, hurrying, sweating. It was used from Homer in the classic Greek writings through the centuries of the spirit panting in the body and the rage of a man that pants and swells. It is the word, by the way, describing Pharaoh's desire to kill Moses (Hebrews 11:27). It is the word used in the fourth chapter of Luke to describe the fury and the rage of a mad crowd that wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff. It is the word used of the Ephesians when they heard the Gospel and started a riot filled with fury in Acts chapter 19. So it's a word of fury, it is a word of fervor.

I think perhaps this passage is one of the places where a man finds some basis for the idea of a great balance sheet. Almost everyone has the idea, even if they have never read the Scriptures, that God is conducting a moral weighing maneuver--that He puts all our good deeds on one side and all our bad deeds on the other side, and if the good deeds outweigh the bad, we get into heaven; if the bad outweigh the good, we go the other direction.

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 9 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 2:9-10 NASB

The word tribulation is from the Greek thlipsis, it means: "to put pressure on something, or to press it." It is used in Acts 11:19 of the crushing persecution of the early church. It is used of the struggles of saints in Romans 12:12. It is used of Paul's being persecuted nearly to death in 2 Corinthians 1:8. It is used of Christ's sufferings in Colossians 1:24 as He was put through tribulation and oppression. It always carries the idea of affliction. It can refer to an inner or an outer affliction, but affliction is the idea.

Do these verses teach that where we spend eternity is determined by what we do on earth? They sure seem to.

If we lift verses 6-10 out of context, we're presented with the idea that God is analyzing the level of our works before casting the decision on our eternal destiny. There are basically three main choices of interpretation of these verses. First, these verses have been interpreted to mean that if our good works outweigh our bad, then we will receive eternal life; but if the bad deeds carry more weight than the good, then we will face "wrath and indignation." This interpretation can be outright rejected.

Another line of interpretation is that Paul was simply dealing with a hypothetical situation, posing the hypothetical possibility. They see these verses as saying, "To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, God WOULD GIVE eternal life IF THEY COULD DO IT, WHICH THEY CAN'T, AND THEREFORE, HAVE TO TURN TO THE GOSPEL".

In other words, is the point of these verses to describe a hypothetical way to heaven along the path of obedience just to show that no one can walk it, and that therefore, everyone needs the Gospel? Or should these verses be taken at face value, so that they mean that the path to heaven is really the path of obedience, and judgment really will accord with works?

This view seems to defy the point Paul is making. He's reminding us that we'll all stand before God in judgment. Some will receive rewards at judgment; others eternal punishment. There's nothing hypothetical about his use of words. This interpretation is probably the most widely accepted among commentators.

Another line of interpretation is that Paul describes the condition and practice of both those justified before God and those condemned before God. They say that Gospel grace transforms! Judgment Day will show this; but so also will the condition and practice of believers in contrast with unbelievers in the here and now.

This view says that the believer will be evident in this life by "perseverance in doing good." If one does not persevere in the faith, then he has no reason to think himself to be a Christian.

John MacArthur writes: "Therefore God when God judges can look at a man and if He sees the works He knows that the salvation has been accomplished...So the deeds then of a person, what you do in your life, is a fair indicator of where you stand with God...A true Christian is known by his righteous deeds. A non-Christian is known by the absence of righteous deeds." This is typical Lordship Theology, which I strongly reject.

MacArthur goes on to say: "The life of God in the soul of man will always produce a righteous pattern. And if you have an unrighteous pattern in your life, you are fighting against the very nature God has created in you in salvation. It's like holding your breath; it's a lot harder than breathing." Is unrighteousness like holding your breath? Or is it more like breathing? Living a holy life is not easy, it takes constant diligence. We must live in constant dependence on God.

The Lordship view teaches that in order to be a Christian, you must do more than believe the Gospel. I see this as adding to the Gospel; it is totally unbiblical!

MacArthur also says: "And I submit to you that if there is no such good work visible in a life, then there is no genuine salvation. If this text says anything, it says that. And if it doesn't say that, it doesn't say anything."

Well, according to MacArthur, this text doesn't say anything, because it doesn't says that good works are necessary for salvation.

Let me tell you what I think these verses are saying. Paul says, they "do not obey the truth." Truth refers specifically to the Gospel. Unbelievers disobey or disbelieve the Gospel, since the ultimate disobedience is that of not believing the Gospel revelation of God in His Son.

The Bible teaches that eternal life is not earned by the merit of our good deeds. It is obtained for us by the death of Christ and based on the righteousness that we have by faith in Him.

How does a works salvation fit with what Paul says throughout the rest of this book? Notice what he says in the end of this section:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20 NASB

Paul says, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight." Then he goes on to say:

being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Romans 3:24 NASB

The Greek word used here for, "gift" is dorean. It means gratuitously, without a cause, freely. "Gift by His grace"--the expression is redoubled to show that all is of God, and that nothing in this act of justification belongs to, or proceeds from man.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, Romans 4:5 NASB

Paul is surly not contradicting himself here from what he said in 2:6-10. Salvation is not of works, but of faith.

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. Romans 11:6 NASB

The clear teaching of the New Testament is that salvation is by grace through faith alone. So what is Paul saying in Romans 2:6-10? Paul is saying that Judgment is according to works. He is talking to a Jewish interlocutor and making the point that being Jewish won't exclude them from judgment because judgment is according to works. And the work that they are lacking is faith in Jesus the Messiah!

Notice what Lazarus said in the forth Gospel:

"Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal." Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" John 6:27-28 NASB

Jesus is talking about works, don't work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life. The people respond "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" What do we DO? What was Jesus' answer?

Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." John 6:29 NASB

The work of God is, believe in Jesus the Christ!

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36 NASB

The word translated "he who does not obey" in the NASB, and "he who does not believe" in the KJV and the NKJV is the verb apeitheo. The leading Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, makes a very insightful comment about apeitheo, which sheds light on John 3:36:

"Since in the view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their Gospel, apeitheo may be restricted in some passages to the meaning: "disbelieve, be an unbeliever" (BAGD, p.82).

This is the same thing that Paul said earlier in Romans:

through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, Romans 1:5 NASB

Paul's calling was to "bring about the obedience of faith." The significance of the genitive pistis (of faith) should be taken as an appositional construction and should be translated as: "the obedience that is faith." Acceptance of the Gospel in faith can be described as an act of obedience.

However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" Romans 10:16 NASB

The word "heed" is the Greek word hupakouo, which means: "to obey." Paul uses it four times in Romans, and the other three are all translated: "obey." The parallelism of the two lines reveals that disobedience consists in failure to believe.

A person who trusts in Christ alone obeys completely the will of the Father to believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal salvation. Let me say this as clearly as I can: Whether you go to heaven or suffer the wrath of God depends only on whether you have trusted Christ or not. Belief of the truth, nothing more and nothing less, is what separates the saved from the damned. The Father gives salvation to all who do nothing more than to believe in His Son. We either believe the witness God has given concerning His Son that salvation is only through Him, or we are still trying to be saved by and through our own deeds of righteousness.

Twice in verses 9 and 10 Paul says:

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 2:9-10 NASB

God's judgment is according to works. Whether you are a Jew or a Greek the only way to escape His wrath is to trust in His Son. The obedience of faith is the only obedience that will save you. This was true in Paul's day and it is true today. Trusting Christ, and Christ alone, is the only way to have eternal life because Jesus is eternal life:

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:20 NASB

What is eternal life? Jesus Christ. What does it mean to have eternal life? To have Jesus Christ living in me:

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20 NASB

"Christ lives in me!" Eternal life is the life of God in the soul of man by the presence of the indwelling Christ. And it goes on throughout eternity.

The only way anyone will escape judgment is by the obedience of faith. Your nationality, your race, you religion won't save you. It is all about faith.

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