No Excuse, No Escape (Part 1)

Romans 2:1-3

Tom Pennington  •  March 1, 2015
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Well, I invite you turn with me to Romans 2. It's the first time that I will say that, but I promise you it will not be last, Romans 2.

This week I was reading and came across a story about Judge Bryant Cochran. Judge Cochran was the Chief Judge of Murray County in Georgia from 2004 to 2012. He, in the years he sat on the bench, convicted many criminals and sent many to prison, but in December of last year Cochran himself was found guilty in what was a very bizarre case. He was convicted, as a judge, of conspiring to plant methamphetamine on a woman shortly after she had publicly accused him of sexual impropriety.

The prosecutor showed the jury that Cochran had hired a tenant of the trailer park that he owned to plant five bags of meth under this woman's car in a little metal tin and then the judge called the deputies and told them, tipped them off to the fact, that if they would search her car they would discover these drugs, and, of course, the rest of the story unfolded from there. When he is sentenced, undoubtedly, this judge will spend years in prison.

As I read that story I thought, it is truly unconscionable for a man who is a judge, who judges and condemns others for drug-related crimes, to, at the same time he is convicting and condemning them, be committing exactly the same offenses. That's absolutely unconscionable. If you have any sense of justice, the residual image of God in you, your heart cries out against that.

But I want you to imagine with me, for a moment, that that judge was not convicted for his terrible crimes and imagine with me that the reason he was exonerated was that his attorney argued in his defense that he should not be found guilty because the judge had a life-long record of keeping more laws than he broke. We would say that's a travesty of justice, that's a perversion of justice, and yet that is exactly how most people act every day. They sit in judgment on the sins of others at the same time that they are breaking the very same Laws of God and they assume that since they agree with God's Law, and since they keep more of His Laws than they break, God will overlook their crimes on the Day of Judgment.

This flawed thinking about God's justice absolutely permeates our world. You see it on the front page of the newspaper. Think of the terrorist state ISIS. These people, with ruthlessness, administer Sharia law, they torture people for their crimes, and yet, you've read as I have that at the same time they are convicting, the leadership is convicting and torturing those who break the law, they are committing some of the same crimes themselves.

This is how most Americans think. I mean, how many times have you run into somebody who said, look, here's how it is going to work, you know, I'm basically a good person and when I get to heaven, if my good outweighs the bad, then God is just going to simply overlook the bad. I kept His Law more that I broke it; won't He be happy with that? Tragically, many churches are filled with people who think like this, but this flawed perspective of God's justice isn't new. In fact, it's very old. It was pandemic among the Jews to whom Paul brought the gospel in the first century. And so Paul, as he continues to unfold the gospel that he preached to the Romans, in Romans 2, he sets out to show that even those who claim to worship the true God need the gospel, because there are no loopholes in the justice of God.

Now, as we begin this new chapter, I want back up for a moment and reset the stage. Some of you have come since we began the book of Romans. So, let me just remind you that Paul wrote this letter to the Romans from Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey. He wrote in the middle of a huge transition in his ministry. He had spent the last 25 years ministering in what we call Eastern Europe. He was about to begin a new ministry to reach Western Europe, starting in Spain. So Paul writes this church. Now remember, Paul did not found the churches in Rome. In fact, he had never even visited them.

So why did Paul write a church that he didn't found, churches that he didn't found, and churches he had never visited? Well, as we discovered in our early studies, there were really three reasons Paul wrote this letter. First of all, he wrote it to glorify God and to exalt Jesus Christ through the proclamation of the gospel. Paul was always about the gospel. This is his ministry. He was a minister of the gospel and so here was just another way to extend his ministry. Secondly, he wrote this letter to establish the Roman Christians in the gospel. You see, he wanted them to understand the gospel more deeply and to live in the light of the gospel more richly and profoundly.

But the third reason Paul wrote this letter was to encourage the Roman Christians to be his sending and supporting churches as he began his new ministry in Western Europe. You remember chapter 15, Romans 15:23, he says,

but now, with no further place for me in these regions, [in other words, I've exhausted my ministry in Eastern Europe,] and since I have had for many years, a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain [That's where he was going to launch his new ministry to Western Europe.] I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.

Paul wanted the churches in Rome to be his supporting and sending churches for his new ministry in Western Europe.

Romans is much longer than most of Paul's other letters. It reads more like a theological treatise and that's because of why he wrote it. If the Romans were going to support Paul's ministry in Western Europe, then they deserved to know firsthand the gospel he preached. The theme then that ties this letter together is simply the gospel of God. He introduces it in the very first verse of this letter and it is the theme that ties it all together. This letter is a summary of the gospel that Paul preached.

Now, let me remind you of the flow of thought so far. The opening of the letter is really the first 17 verses, three simple paragraphs, verses 1 to 7 of chapter 1, greetings from Paul, acknowledging those to whom he wrote, verses 8 to 15, thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans, and verses 16 and 17, a formal statement of the letter's theme, the gospel of God. Now, that begins then, when we get to chapter 1 verse 18, we begin, really, the heart of this letter. The first section I've called, the gospel explained, justification by faith alone. Here is the heart of the gospel that Paul preached. This section begins in chapter 1 verse 18 and runs all the way through the end of chapter 4. He begins this section, not with the good news of the gospel, but with the bad news, the news that requires, that demands the gospel. In chapter 1 verse 18, all the way through chapter 3 verse 20, Paul presents man's utter lack of positive and personal righteousness, the need that man has for the gospel. He begins laying out that need by indicting the pagans in chapter 1 verses 18 to 32. We've looked that in detail.

Today, we will see that he moves on in chapter 2 verse 1, all the way through chapter 3 verse 8, with an indictment of the Jews. So, today we begin chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Romans as he continues to show why every human being on the planet needs the gospel. Let me read for you chapter 2 verses 1 to 3.

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. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 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?

Now, the first question that meets us as we begin this chapter is to whom is Paul speaking here? Who is Paul addressing in Romans 2? There have historically been two primary views of who these people are and specifically verses 1 to 16 of chapter 2. Whom does Paul address, in verses 1 to 16? Well, the first view that's taken is that this refers to moral Gentiles. They say, this group says, you know, Paul has already addressed the, sort of, immoral, pagan Gentiles in chapter 1. Now, in verses 1 to 16 of chapter 2, these are the good guys. These are the good pagans who are basically moral and upright and upstanding in their perspective. This view argues that Paul must be speaking generally to moral pagans in verses 1 to 16 because he doesn't address Jews specifically until verse 17. Look at verse 17, "But if you bear the name 'Jew' and rely upon the Law and boast in God." So they say, verses 1 to 16, moral Gentiles. Calvin and many of the reformers took this view.

The second view is that verses 1 to 16 are speaking of the Jews. This is where most modern commentators land and I have to agree. I think that Paul primarily has the Jews in mind in verses 1 to 16, for a couple of reasons, let me share them with you. Number one, because in this entire section of the letter Paul is contrasting between Jew and Gentile. Look at chapter 1 verse 16, as he introduces the theme of the letter he says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Greek here is used in the sense of Gentile, a replacement for the word Gentile. So here you have that contrast.

Turn to chapter 2 verses 9 and 10. Again, this is before he specifically addresses Jews, but he says this,

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also the Greek, [or the Gentile,] but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

So, understand that this entire section of Romans is built on this contrast between Jew and Gentile, and so it makes perfect sense that he would focus his indictments against humanity in those two categories. That is exactly what I believe he does, chapter 1 and then chapter 2 and following.

A second argument I would use, and we will see this as it unfolds later, but in Romans 2:11-14, Paul contrasts the Gentiles who do not have the Law, the written Law, with the Jews who do have the written Law. And so, clearly he's intending, as he dealt with chapter 1, the Gentiles who do not have the Law, the emphasis in chapter 2 is on those who do have the Law, which would be the Jews.

A third reason that I would argue that these verses have to do with the Jews is the way Paul introduces the label Jew in verse 17. If you just read this chapter, the way he introduces it in verse 17 implies that he has already been speaking about them and to them. Be a strange way to start, in verse 17, if that was the first time that he had mentioned them, and again, we'll see that when we get there. I have to agree with Douglas Moo, one of the best commentators on the book of Romans, when he writes this, "Although Paul does not explicitly identify his target until verse 17, it is clear that already the Jew is his hidden target. By beginning his indictment in general terms, Paul enables his readers to share in the discovery process that he probably used when he preached the gospel to mixed audiences."

So chapter 1 then is Paul's indictment of unbelieving pagans and then for the next chapter and a half, beginning in chapter 2 verse 1, he will indict the Jews. Now, for Paul's approach here to make sense you've got to transport yourself back into the spiritual atmosphere of the first century. In the first century, really every person on the planet fit neatly into one of two religious categories. First of all, there were Gentiles, who either claimed to worship nothing if they were secularists or who claimed to worship one of the gods of the nations, idols. The other category was Jew, or Gentile proselytes to Judaism, who claimed to worship the one true God revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Those were the only two categories, but let's drill down a little bit on that second category. Because among those who claimed to worship the one true God, there were a few genuine Old Testament believers who really knew and loved the God of Scripture. The Old Testament calls them the remnant. They lived by faith. Their confidence was in God as Savior. I hope you understand that from the fall there has always been only one way to be right with God and that has always been through the work of the One who was promised on the very day of the fall, the Redeemer who would come and finally deal completely with sin. These genuine Old Testament believers were awaiting their Messiah, who, in the words of Isaiah 53, would become their guilt offering.

But sadly, most first century Jews were not genuine believers. They had misunderstood the entire purpose of the Law and they had concluded that they could gain a right standing before God based on their own obedience to God's Law. This false idea was so prevalent that by the first century Judaism had become, in reality, a false works-based religion.

So then, the spiritual categories in the first century were these three. First of all, there were lost pagans. Paul addresses them, as we've seen, in chapter 1. The second category were lost Jews and Gentile proselytes who had attached themselves to the true God, but who were trying to attain heaven based on their own righteousness. That's who Paul takes up in chapter 2 verse 1 through chapter 3 verse 8.

This same group, by the way, is described over in Romans 10. Turn over there, Romans 10. Paul here talks about Israel, verse 1, "Brethren, my heart's desire, my prayer to God for them," notice this, "is for their," what? "Salvation." Most Jewish people in the first century were not saved. They needed salvation. Now, why? Why were they not even saved in an Old Testament sense? Verse 2, "For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with true biblical knowledge." They misunderstood. "For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own." In other words, they didn't understand the gift of righteousness that Paul's talked about in Romans and they thought instead the Law was all about obeying enough to make yourself acceptable to God. They misunderstood. They tried to establish their own righteousness. "They did not subject themselves," to the gospel, "to the righteousness of God," in the gospel.

The third category of the first century, not only lost pagans, lost Jews and Gentile proselytes, the third category was a remnant, a remnant of Jews and Gentile proselytes who had come to genuine Old Testament saving faith. They understood what Abraham understood. They understood what David understood. That the only way was by faith through God's grace. Now, when this third category, when they heard John the Baptist preach, what did they do? They repented and prepared for their Messiah. This third category, when they heard Jesus, what did they do? They turned, as you see in John 1, from following John the Baptist to following the Messiah, the one John promised, and when they heard the apostles preach the gospel, this third group believed it.

So, understand then, that in Romans 1:18-32 Paul indicted the first group, lost pagans. Beginning in chapter 2 verse 1 through chapter 3 verse 8, Paul indicts the second group, Jews and Gentiles who claimed a connection to the true God, but who were lost in their self-righteousness. Paul's point in this section, listen carefully, is that even the person who claims to worship the true God needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just like the pagan, he is guilty and he desperately needs justification by faith alone.

Let me put this in today's terms, whom is Romans 2 for today? In today's terms, chapter 2 addresses every one on the planet who claims to worship the true God of the Bible, Jews, Gentile proselytes, and, we would add a third category today, lots of professing Christians who claim to have attached themselves to God in some way but have never seen they're own desperate need for the gospel of grace. They're still doing what the Jews tried to do, attain a right standing before God based on their own obedience, their own righteousness.

Now folks, this group of people, they are very religious. You'll find them in synagogues and churches all the time. They talk a lot about the Bible. They think of themselves as basically good, moral people. But what Paul wants us to realize is that they need the gospel as much as any pagan idolater. We who profess to worship the true God of the Bible, we desperately need the gospel.

Now, in chapter 2 Paul tells us why we need the gospel. We need it for three reasons. In verses 1 to 16, knowing what is sinful and condemning it in others will not enable you to escape the wrath of God. Knowing what is sinful and condemning it in others will not allow you to escape the wrath of God. Verses 17 to 24, having the Scripture and knowing its truths will not allow you to escape the wrath of God, and verses 25 to 29, making a profession of faith, identifying with God's people, performing biblical rituals and activities, will not allow you to escape the wrath of God.

Now today, I want us to start to examine the first reason, that even those who are not unbelieving pagans, those who claim to worship the true God, need the gospel. Reason number one, knowing what is sinful and condemning it in others will not allow you to escape God's wrath. We see this in verses 1 to 16. Now, let me remind you that when Paul entered a town or city in his ministry, what is the first thing he always did? Find the synagogue, right? And then next Sabbath day he was there presenting the gospel that he preached.

What we read in Romans, and I love this, is almost certainly the approach that Paul took when he began evangelizing in the Jewish synagogues. It's as if we get to sit in a first century Jewish synagogue and watch Paul masterfully unfold the gospel. He started by making an indictment against all Gentile pagans and declaring the wrath of God against all Gentile pagans. You can just see the excitement among the Jewish participants there in the synagogue as they're thinking, yeah, this is a great message. Boy, this message needs to be heard everywhere. This is great. I agree with this. Amen!

But then, in a brilliant turn, Paul began a new indictment, but this time it's against those who claim to worship the true God, against the Jews, against the people sitting in the synagogue listening to him. And I can promise you that the Jews who heard what Paul said about the Gentiles, that's recorded for us in chapter 1, were sitting there in full and complete agreement in rapt attention. But even though they were committing the very same sins, they thought they could escape God's judgment.

Now, what led them to that conclusion? What leads those attached to the worship of the true God today, to the same conclusion? It's because of flawed ideas about God. This bad idea starts with a flawed view of God's justice. You see this in verses 1 to 3 and as this flawed view of God's justice unfolds, the first part of this flawed view is mistaking self-righteousness for real righteousness. We see this in verse 1, "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."

Now, notice the word therefore. That connects what Paul says here in chapter 2 back to verse 32 of chapter 1. Notice verse 32, "those who practice such things are worthy of death." In other words, you don't have to have a depraved mind that calls evil good to be guilty before God. All you have to do is commit the same things. But really this idea takes us back to chapter 1 verse 18, notice, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against," what? Against what? "All," underline that, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." God is not a respecter of persons, and so whether you have a biblically informed moral mind that calls sin, evil, or whether you have a depraved mind that calls it good, if you sin, you are guilty before God. Verse 1, "Therefore," because all who practice these sins are worthy of God's wrath, "you have no excuse."

Now, the Greek word translated "no excuse" is, literally, our English word apology with a negative added, you have no apology. In classical terms, you have no justifiable defense. It's a legal word. You have no defense. It's used only one other place in Scripture and that's back in chapter 1 verse 20, of the pagans, "they are," notice the end of verse 20, "they are without excuse," same word. No apology. No defense. In the same way that the pagan has no defense before God because of all that God has revealed about Himself in creation, we who are connected to the true God and to the people of God have no excuse for our sin. Apart from Christ, listen to me, apart from Christ we will have no more legitimate defense on the Day of Judgment than a pagan idolater will have.

Now look at verse 1, literally, it reads this way in the Greek text, "You are without excuse, O man. Everyone judging." You say, wow, you know, Paul is confronting those people in Rome. Well, not really. Paul is using here a method of argument in the first century. It's called the diatribe. A diatribe was when a writer would engage in an imaginary discussion with one of his opponents. So chapter 2 is kind of an imaginary discussion between Paul and a Jewish unbeliever. The beauty of this form of argument is it allowed Paul to be very direct. It is a form of the Greek language that is second person singular, you and you and you, that's how it would come across. It's as if Paul is speaking directly to every individual who fits his description. Although this is an imaginary dialogue, I can promise you that it reflects many actual dialogues that Paul had with unbelieving Jewish people.

Now notice how Paul identifies these people in verse 1, "Therefore you have no defense, every one of you who passes judgment." When those who claim to worship the true God criticize and sit in judgment on the sins of Gentile pagans, they destroy any defense that they might have before God. Why? Verse 1, "for," because, "in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself." The word translated condemn means to pronounce a sentence after determining one's guilt. So, here's a person sitting in judgment on the sins of another person and coming to a guilty verdict on that person, and Paul says, when you come to a guilty verdict on that person, you have come to a guilty verdict on yourself.

Now, how do we condemn ourselves when we sit in judgment on others? Well, first of all, clearly it shows we know what sin is, right? If I can recognize sin in someone else then, what? I know sin. And we commit the very sins that we recognize in others. So we have condemned ourselves in our judging. Verse 1 says, "in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself for," because, "you who judge practice the same things." Now, did you notice the contrast between chapter 1 verse 32 and chapter 2 verse 1? In verse 32, these people sin, they commit sins, and they approve of the people around them who commit those sins. In chapter 2 verse 1, these people also sin, but they condemn the sins they commit when they see those sins in others.

Now, the verbs in the last half of verse 1 are in the present tense in the Greek text, describing habitual action. Moral, religious people who are attached to the true God habitually sit in judgment on the sins of others and in so doing, they habitually pronounce a sentence on themselves. Every time you criticize someone else, every time you pick up the newspaper and you go, can you believe that goes on in our culture, you are condemning yourself, you are destroying any defense you have before God, because you know. But they just don't see it. They were blind to it.

Let me give you an example from a Jewish apocryphal writing. This is from 2 Estres 3:34-35. Here's a Jewish man, an unbelieving Jewish man, praying to God. Here's what he says, "Weigh in the balance our iniquities and those of the inhabitants of the world, and so it will be found which way the turn of the scale will incline. What nation has kept your commandments so well?" It's deceptive. As Luther points out, "Every person outside of Christ is naturally guilty of condemning others for the very same sins they commit."

One of the most laughable examples of that comes from Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Some of you may have read it years ago. In that book he gives the example of Al Capone, the Chicago gangster, who for many years was public enemy number one on the FBI's most wanted list. Al Capone. Al Capone said this about himself, "I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them to have a good time and all I get is abuse. The existence of a hunted man." Poor me. I'm just misunderstood. All I'm trying to do is help people and the FBI can't get it through their heads. Guys, if a gangster can find a way to think well of himself, how much more those who haven't habitually murdered, who haven't habitually robbed.

Self-righteousness not only produces hypocrisy, listen carefully, it also produces a powerful, insidious form of self-deception. You just don't see it. When my girls were younger, often one of them would come to Sheila or me and they would say something like this, dad, my sister is being so selfish, and I would ask, of course, well, how honey, how is your sister being selfish? I hate to shock you about a pastor's home, but one of the common ways that selfishness showed up in our household was by, gasp, intentionally choosing the biggest piece of dessert. Now, why was this a problem to the daughter reporting this gross injustice? Was she thinking, you know dad, if you don't intervene my other sister isn't going to get enough dessert? No, it was never because the third sister wasn't getting enough. It was always because the one reporting the injustice was terribly afraid that she wouldn't get enough herself. In passing judgment on her sister's selfishness, she was condemning herself for the very same sin, oblivious to her own.

Now, again, I expect this probably hasn't happened in your home, but bear with me. Our response as parents was to try to teach our kids about loving others. Honey, you need to love your sister and you need to love them unselfishly. You need, Philippians 3, to look out, or Philippians 2 rather, you need to look out for their concerns more than your own. We taught these things, but eventually your kids wear you down and even Christian parents become pragmatic, you just want peace, and so you come up with a plan that doesn't deal with the heart of selfishness, but just sort of manages it.

Again, this probably hasn't happened to you, but just go along. You say something like this, okay honey, here is a piece of dessert and it's for both of you to share, and so one of you is going to cut the desert in two and then the other one of you gets to choose first. Now think about what that does, you know, the one cutting is going to be really careful to cut it as close to center as possible because she might get the smaller half. We get so frustrated with our kids' selfishness. You know, how could any child of mine be so selfish, make such choices. So you get them to bed and you go to get your own dessert, and you just can't stop thinking about how ridiculous their petty selfishness about a little piece of dessert is. But as Ted Tripp points out, you are standing in the kitchen thinking about all of this while you're weighing out the two bowls of ice cream you just dipped, trying to discern which one has the most in it. Again, is this so that there won't be any injustice to your spouse? No, it's so you can get the bowl with the most ice cream. Sadly, even though we just sat in judgment on our kids for the exact same sin, we failed to see it entirely in ourselves.

You know, that's a humorous illustration, but folks, that is a parable of our lives. That's what Paul wants us to see. This is part of the fallen human condition. I think the most graphic illustration of this in Scripture is in 2 Samuel 12, 2 Samuel 12:1. You know the story, David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he had had her husband Uriah killed. Nine months had gone by, some nine months or so, chapter 12 verse 1, "Then the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to David. And he came to him and said." Now, you know this is a parable. David didn't. David thinks Nathan is telling him something that really happened in his kingdom. You have to read it with that in mind.

"There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds, but the poor man has nothing except one little ewe lamb which he bought and nourished; and grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, it was like a daughter to him. [In other words, this was a pet, a little pet lamb. It was all he had.] Now a traveler came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own extensive herds, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather, he took the poor man's ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him." And David's anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this, he ought to die. [But, of course, the death penalty couldn't be enacted for this, according to the Mosaic Law, so] He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion."

Now what's going on here? David is genuinely incensed about this rich man's sin. He's angry. He's condemning it. Verse 7, "Nathan said to David, 'You are the man!'" This is exactly what we do everyday. We don't see our own sin, but we sit constantly in judgment on the sins of others.

The Pharisees, of course, were examples of this kind of hypocrisy. In Matthew 5, Jesus said they judged others for murder while they tolerated their own sinful anger. They judged harshly those who committed adultery, but they tolerated lust in their hearts. In Matthew 23, Jesus said they got upset with those who didn't tithe their herbs, while perfectly willing to tolerate their own injustice and lack of mercy. They cleaned the outside of the cup but left the inside reeking of decay and death.

Listen folks, we can easily mistake self-righteousness for real righteousness, but every time we criticize the sin of others, we condemn ourselves. As one rather cheesy way to put it is, every time you point a finger at someone else, there are three of them pointing back at you. That's exactly the reality. We condemn ourselves. Why? Verse 1 of Romans 2, because we do "the same things." Now, I know, you may be tempted to say to yourself, look I've gone through Romans 1 with you, and I don't do those things. I'm basically a pretty good person.

Well, let me give you a little quiz. See how you do. I really want you to take this quiz in your mind. I want you to say yes or no in your own mind about yourself. Question number one, have you ever loved anything more than God? Question two, have you ever failed to worship God in the way He prescribes to be worshiped? Number three, have you ever used anything related to God in a disrespectful way? Have you ever neglected to gather each week with others to worship God as He commands? Have you ever been disrespectful to the authorities that God has put into your life? Have you ever been angry with someone in your heart, or have you ever expressed that anger in violent words or in violent action? Have you ever been engaged in sex, either in your mind or with your body, with someone other than your spouse? Have you ever taken something from someone that didn't belong to you? Have you ever lied or intentionally misrepresented the truth to your advantage? Have you ever longed to have something that belongs to someone else?

You recognize that list, it's the ten Commandments. You have broken every one of those commandments and you have broken them repeatedly, and so have I. We are no different than unbelieving pagans. We have, in the words of Romans 2:1, done exactly the same things. That's why we all need the gospel. James Montgomery Boyce put it this way, "Jesus does not excuse us, He forgives us. He calls us sinners, yet He says, 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'" And then Boyce goes on to say, listen carefully, "The most important thing in life is to know that Jesus is able to save you from sin. The second most important thing is to know that you need it."

Let's pray together. Father, Your word is truly like a sword that pierces to the very thoughts and intentions of the heart. Lord, we like to think so well of ourselves. Thank You for the reminder that instead we all, along with every pagan idolater, desperately need the gospel.

Father, I pray for those here this morning who may not yet have come to that full and complete understanding of their own sinful condition before You. Lord, shatter any thought of self-righteousness, shatter any hope of standing before You based on their own merit, based on their own obedience, based on their own righteousness. Destroy it to the dust and help them to see how it would really be, and bring them to Christ.

Father, for those of us who are in Christ, I pray that You would humble us. Remind us of the pit from which you have digged us. Remind us, O God, of how You've saved us and delivered us, what we would deserve, that we would be without defense, without excuse on the Day of Judgment, apart from Jesus Christ. He is our only defense because we are in Him. Father, fill our hearts with joy and gratitude. We praise and worship You in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.