Measured Against the Law (Part 1)

Romans 2:12-15

Tom Pennington  •  May 3, 2015
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One of the most common questions that believers struggle with, and one of the questions that I have been asked countless times, has to do with those who have never heard the gospel. Is it true that all who don't believe in Jesus Christ, even if they have never heard His name, will be condemned by God at the final judgment? What about, and this is the way the question normally comes, what about the tribesman living in the jungle that has never seen the Bible, has never heard about the true God, or never heard about His Son Jesus Christ? Is Jesus Christ really the only way for that person to be received into God's presence? Now those are important questions.

Unfortunately, with those important questions there are a number of very bad answers out in the Christian world. There are too many of them for me to rehearse for you, let me just give you a couple of the most egregious. First of all, there's the bad answer of universalism. This is the theological position that every single human being, ultimately, will be saved by God in a sweeping act of divine grace regardless of how they've lived or what they've believed or whether or not they've ever heard of Jesus Christ. This is obviously contrary to the Scripture. It's contrary to what the church has believed and taught for 2,000 years. It is heresy.

The most recent convert to, and proponent of, this heretical idea of universalism, at least the most well known recent one, is Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. At one-time thought to be an evangelical, although that was always questionable, he certainly made it clear that he was not, in fact, was a heretic rightly deserving of being condemned, when he wrote that book and took that position.

Another bad answer to this question is one you may not have heard of, but it's unfortunately somewhat popular here in the Metroplex. It's transdispensationalism. This is the seriously flawed view of some dispensationalists and most famously here in the Dallas area, Tony Evans. They teach that Old Testament Israelites were saved solely by believing in the death of that animal sacrifice. In other words, their only hope was in killing that animal, that somehow in that act, God would forgive their sins. They weren't looking forward to a future Redeemer. They weren't looking for One who would come to deal with sin, even if they didn't understand exactly how He would deal with sin. It was all in that animal sacrifice.

Now let me just say, that is not what the Old Testament teaches. That's a different message for a different time, but let me just say this, in Genesis 3:15, on the day of the fall, the day of the first sin, God promised mankind that ultimately a special person would come to deal with sin and with Satan. They didn't understand all the ins and outs of that, frankly, until Isaiah, 700 years before Christ, wrote Isaiah 53 and said that the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, would lay down His life in the place of the guilty. But certainly, they weren't putting all their hope in the death of that animal.

But this is what they teach and therefore they say God was transdispensationalizing. They weren't in our dispensation, the dispensation after the cross, so God sort of transdispensationalized them. He just accepted them on the grounds of they lived up to what they knew, which was that animal sacrifice. Therefore, they argue, perhaps God will transdispensationalize in our day, good and sincere Hindus or Muslims into His kingdom as well. This is what Tony Evans has said in an interview. That's a bad answer.

The third bad answer to what about the pagan who's never heard is the most common answer and let's just call it sentimentalism. This is the most common view of most evangelicals who decide, frankly, without any biblical basis whatsoever, that God just can't condemn those who've never heard the gospel. It just doesn't measure up to my standard of fairness, it's just not fair, so He can't do it.

Now those are all bad answers, but two of the right answers to that question appear here in Romans 1 and 2. You see the Bible, including this passage, teaches that man's knowledge of God and his knowledge of spiritual realities, comes not through reason alone or through experience, but because God has chosen to make Himself known. Scripture goes on to explain that God's self-disclosure, or His self-revelation, takes two forms, special revelation and general revelation.

Special revelation is primarily God's revelation of Himself in His Son, who lived and walked on this planet, and in His Word. That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it'll do for now. That's special revelation.

General revelation is God's self-disclosure that comes to every human being on the planet, general revelation, and it comes through three sources. General revelation comes through creation, number one. Number two, it comes through providence. You remember, God's doing good, Jesus talked about His causing the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Paul in Acts 14 talks about God didn't leave Himself without a witness in that He did good and He gave you fruitful seasons and rain and food and family and all those blessings. So God reveals Himself generally through His providence. So creation, providence, thirdly, He reveals Himself through the substance of the Law written on every man's heart.

Now, we've already studied Paul's first answer to this question of what about the pagans? Pagans are without excuse, Paul has told us, because of what God has revealed in the creation. Go back to chapter 1. Some of you weren't here when we worked our way through this and some of the rest of you have forgotten. Romans 1:18, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." Why? Well, they "suppress the truth," they hold down the truth, "in unrighteousness." Well, what truth? Verse 19,

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, [this revelation has been available from the beginning,] His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, [and seen by all. How? Well, they are] being understood through looking at what has been made, [what has been created] so that they [and in this case, every single human being, all pagans] are without excuse.

So God has revealed Himself in creation. What has He made known about Himself? Look again at verse 20, "His invisible attributes." Specifically, two of them, "His eternal power," that speaks of His absolute supreme control, "and His divine nature," that speaks of His deity. So you could paraphrase what Paul says, God is revealed in creation, by saying He has revealed Himself to be the all-powerful supreme being. Look at the creation and you see it.

When men refuse to acknowledge God and worship Him, it's not from a lack of evidence; it's from what one author called, "their irrational and resolute determination not to know him." You say, well, wait a minute. Okay, so God has revealed Himself, but do people have the capacity to understand that revelation? Well, look at verse 19, "that which is known about God is evident within them." How? Because, "God made it evident to them." There's no question. Each person has been given the revelation in creation and they've been given the capacity to receive that general revelation, "so that," the end of verse 20, without exception, "they are without excuse." So God has made Himself known as the powerful supreme being in creation.

But that's not all God has made known about Himself to all men. Notice chapter 1 verse 32, we're still talking about pagans. We're still talking about idol worshipers. Paul says, "they know the ordinance of God," and they know "that those who practice these things" he's just listed, "are worthy of death" and still "they not only do the same, but give hearty approval to those who practice them." This is a remarkable statement. Paul says that all men, all pagans, without exception, know the ordinance, that is, the regulations or the requirements of God. And we walked through this verse. I pointed out to you that really, this verse is telling us that pagans know two things. They know that God is a righteous lawgiver who expects, yes, who demands, obedience of us and they know that God hates our sin and will judge us for our sin. That's all pagans.

How do they know? I mean, think about this for a moment. How does the Law of God speak to countless people who lived and died before the flood, before Moses? What about the billions of people since Moses who've never read the Bible, who've never heard it read or taught? What about all the people alive today in some remote tribal setting or in some urban setting where they will never in their lifetimes be exposed to the gospel? Well, look again at verse 32. According to Paul, ultimately according to the Holy Spirit, "they know the ordinance of God." The question is, how?

Well, today we come to Paul's second answer to the troubling question about the culpability of pagans who've never heard the gospel. And his second answer is in chapter 2 verses 12 to 15. Let me give you the answer and then we'll look at it together. The reason they can be held without excuse, the reason they know, is that God has woven the knowledge of His perfect standard into the moral universe and specifically into the fabric of every human heart. Not one person has ever been born without "the work of the Law," as Paul calls it in verse 15, "written on his heart." So all men stand completely and helplessly guilty before God. Wherever they live, whatever they've been exposed to, whatever truth they've had, this is still true of them: God has woven the knowledge of His perfect standard into the fabric of their souls.

Now these verses are part of a larger section, as you know, that runs from chapter 2 verse 1 to chapter 3 verse 8. This entire section is the indictment of the Jews and all of those who claim to know the true God, but who rest in their own self-righteousness rather than in the work of Christ. In chapter 2, Paul explains why the Jews, and all moral religious people, need the gospel. They need the gospel for three reasons and we're looking at the first of those reasons. They need the gospel because knowing what is sinful and condemning it in others will not allow you to escape God's wrath. This is in verses 1 to 16. This is what the Jews thought.

According to verse 3, the Jews concluded they would escape God's future judgment even though they had committed, according to verse 1, the very same sins they condemned in the pagans. And they came to that conclusion because they had terribly flawed views about God. And so Paul sets out to correct their flawed views about God. He corrects, in verses 1 to 3, their flawed view about God's justice. In verses 4 to 5, he corrects their flawed view about God's common grace and then in verses 6 to 16, where we find ourselves, he corrects their flawed view of God's future judgment. You see, they thought that the future judgment would be different for them because of their privileged position.

To correct their skewed perspective on all of this, in verses 6 to 16, Paul lays out, for them and for us, four foundational principles of God's judgment. The first principle is that the future judgment will be according to our deeds. The principle is stated in verse 6, "He will render to each person according to his deeds." It couldn't be any clearer. And then in verses 7 through 10 Paul develops that idea.

Last week we learned the second foundational principle of God's judgment and that is, it will be without partiality. Verse 11, "For there is no partiality with God." And we learned last week that, in this pregnant sentence, Paul is actually making a sweeping assertion about the character of God. God, in every circumstance, in every way, toward every person, is completely without partiality. He is not affected by external circumstances whatsoever, or anything external, He's affected by the heart. He bases His verdict on the evidence. In here, in context, in verse 11, Paul's primary point is that at the future judgment God will judge all human beings with complete impartiality.

Now today, we come to a third foundational principle of God's judgment, the future judgment of unbelievers. That's what we're talking about. The future judgment of unbelievers will be, thirdly, according to God's Law. Let's read it together. It's verses 12 to 15. I'm going to add verse 16. While I think verse 16 communicates a separate principle, it's tagged and so we'll read it together.

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a Law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Now, the theme of verses 12 to 15 is this, at the final judgment God will judge all unbelievers against the standard of His Law. That's the point.

Now, before we begin to work our way through the text itself, there are a couple of important, sort of, introductory issues to address. So let's do that first. First of all, it's important to note here that everyone in these verses is an unbeliever. These are those who have failed to live up to the impossible standard of perfect obedience to God's Law. That's the standard if you want to earn your way to heaven, if you want to, by works, earn your own way. Paul's laid that out in the verses before this. They fail to do that. Instead, they are described in verses 8 and 9. They are those who are "selfishly ambitious, who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness," and therefore receive God's "wrath and indignation." They will receive "tribulation and distress" because they are "those who do evil." These are the ones described in our text.

So, all of those in our text are unbelievers, but Paul then takes the unbelievers and he divides them into two categories, Jews and Gentiles, not because of their race, not because of their ethnic identity, not because of their ancestors, he'll do that later in the chapter, but here it's based on the fact that in the first century, if you were Jewish you had a written copy of God's Law and if you were Gentile you didn't. That's how he's dividing them up here. Notice how he describes the Jews, verse 12, they are "under the Law." Verse 13, they are "the hearers of the Law." Look down at verse 17,

if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.

So these are the Jews. They have the Scripture. Notice then the Gentiles, verse 12, he describes them as "without the Law." They don't have the written Law. In fact, verse 14, he makes it very clear, "Gentiles who do not have the Law." So he's making a distinction then, Jew and Gentile, but the main issue is who has the written Law of God and who doesn't.

Now before we can go any farther, we have to define what he means by the Law. This is a difficult issue because throughout his letters Paul uses this word Law in a variety of different senses. Let me give you the most dominant ones. First of all, he uses this word Law to describe a generally understood principle. You can see this in Romans 7:21. He uses the word Law in other cases to describe the Ten Commandments. You can see this in chapter 13 verses 8 and 9. He uses the word Law to describe the entire Mosaic legislation, everything Moses received at Sinai. You can see this in chapter 5 verses 13 to 14.

Number four, on some occasions he uses the word Law to refer to the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. You can see that in chapter 3 verse 21, we read it this morning in the Scripture reading, "the Law and the Prophets." He meant the first five books of the Old Testament and the rest of the Old Testament. Sometimes he uses the word Law to describe the entire Old Testament Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 14:21, he quotes from Isaiah and calls it "the Law." So this raises a question for us. What is Paul talking about here when he's talking about the Law? This is pretty important. What does he mean? Which of those is he talking about?

Well, there are a couple of clues in the context that make it clear. The first clue is in verse 14, verses 14 and 15. Notice in verse 15 he says that "the work" or substance of whatever law he's talking about, is written on the hearts of all men. Well, right away that makes it clear he's not talking about the entire Old Testament. He's not saying the entire Old Testament is written on the hearts of all men. He's not saying the entire Mosaic legislation is written on the hearts of all men, so it narrows it down a good bit. But let's see our second clue. Notice in verse 17 he says, the Law is that upon which the Jews rely. In verse 18, it's that which they are taught. In verse 20, notice, it's that which they teach the Gentiles. And then he explains what he means here by the Law in this context. Notice verse 21,

you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one does not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who won't make any idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

Now obviously, in context, what Law is he talking about? What's the sense of Law he's using here? Where is it written, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not make idols? Obviously, it's the Ten Commandments. That's the sense that he's using here. So in this context then, Paul is not talking about the entire Mosaic Covenant, or the Pentateuch, or the entire Old Testament. Instead, by Law he means what theologians call the Moral Law of God.

Now the moment I say that I open up another can of worms. Let me just hit the pause button here for a moment and explain what I mean by the Moral Law of God. You see, the Mosaic legislation, what God gave at Sinai, the Law of Moses, is one united Law, but it has in it, three aspects of God's Law, three aspects. Aspect number one is the ceremonial aspect. There are a number of laws within the Mosaic Law that are ceremonial. There are the feasts. There are the various ceremonies that are required, the sacrifices, the sacrificial system. All these ceremonies, what were they there to do? They were there to picture the spiritual truths concerning the person and the work of Jesus Christ and the benefits of His redemption.

So what happens to the ceremonial aspect of God's Law after Christ? Well, Paul's very clear in Colossians 2. He lists some of those ceremonies and he says those are shadows and then I love what he says in the original language. He says, those are the shadows, but the body is Christ. You get the picture? He's saying, why would you keep playing around with the shadows when the real person is here? They were merely pictures, all those ceremonies, and then he says, so don't let anyone judge you in respect to those things. Those ceremonial laws have been swept away because they were merely shadows and pictures and the body is here. By the way, Hebrews makes the same point about the sacrificial system. So that's one aspect, the ceremonial aspect, of God's Law.

The second aspect of God's Law is the civil aspect. For example, all of the commands to execute the death penalty, again and again it says, if anyone does this he shall be put to death. Is the church supposed to do that? Is this like 21st century church discipline? No, of course not. Unfortunately, some in church history have gotten confused over this issue and it has happened from time to time. But that's not it at all. How do we know that? Well, these laws were, these civil laws, or civic laws, were intended for the functioning of the nation of Israel, just like our nation has laws.

So what happened to the civic or civil aspect of God's Law after Christ? Well clearly, the responsibility for civil laws has been transferred in the New Testament era to secular government. Romans 13, who now bears the sword to execute? Secular government. Rome in the case of the Romans. In our case, the U.S. government, the Texas government, the local government. They bear the sword on behalf of God. They have the responsibility to carry out a civil or civic law. What's our responsibility? Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, we're to submit. We're to do what we're told unless we're told to do that which is contrary to God's Law.

Now, the third aspect of the Mosaic legislation, you have the ceremonial, the civil, the third aspect was the moral aspect of God's Law. This describes those commands of God that are summarized in the Ten Commandments. These truths don't flow from some divine whim, but rather they reflect God's perfect nature and they can never change. That's why God will say, as He's giving the Law even in the Old Testament, He'll say things like Leviticus 19:1-2, "be holy." Why? "For I am holy." There are things I want you to do because it's a reflection of My character.

So the moral Law then, describes those moral requirements that are grounded in the perfections of the divine nature. They are absolutely immutable and they cannot be repealed, even by God Himself. Now don't misunderstand, the Ten Commandments are not for God, they're for us. They're a reflection of His character but they don't apply to God. Why not? Well, God can't worship another god because there aren't any other gods and He certainly doesn't worship Himself. He can't dishonor His father and mother because He doesn't have a father and mother. He can't murder because all life is His to do with as He chooses. He can't steal or covet because everything belongs to Him. Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments are a reflection of His eternal character in what it looks like in human life. That's why it can't change.

Now, this moral Law, these moral stipulations and expectations of human beings, they've always been true. Before Moses they were true, but at Sinai God codified this moral Law as part of the Law of Moses, along with the ceremonial and the civil aspects of the Law, and He provided a summary outline of His moral Law in what we call the Ten Commandments.

Now, Christ even further condensed our understanding of the moral Law when He was asked in Matthew 22, "'what is the great commandment?'" And He says, I'll tell you the two great commandments, love the Lord your God with all your being, with all your soul and might and strength, and "'"love your neighbor as yourself"'". "'On these two commands,'" He says, "'depends all the Law and the Prophets,'" the entire Scripture. You know what Jesus was saying? He was saying, you want to know everything God requires of you morally? You want to know His moral expectations of you? Here it is, you can carry these along with you, love God with your whole heart and love everyone around you as you love yourself. That is the tightest, most condensed, form of God's moral Law, outlined in the Ten Commandments, but condensed into those two great commands.

Now, back to Romans 2. It is the moral Law of God that Paul is talking about here in Romans 2. So, with that basic understanding of those introductory issues, let's walk our way through this text together. God's future judgment of unbelievers will be according to God's Law. Notice verse 12 begins with the preposition "For." It's tied to what goes before it. This highlights that verse 11, that we studied last week, is pivotal in the flow of Paul's thought and the flow of this passage. It's the, kind of, hinge on which this entire passage swings. On the one hand, verse 11, "there is no partiality with God," is proof of what comes in the verses before, that God will judge solely based on a man's works. Why will He do that? Because there's no partiality with God. At the same time, verse 11 proves that the verses that follow it are true, that God will judge everyone's works against the same standard. Why? Because "there is no partiality with God." What's the standard? His moral Law, whether that Law is written in Scripture or whether the work of that Law is written on the heart. This becomes the standard.

Now, as Paul unfolds this third standard of God's judgment, he begins by making the point that God will judge every unbeliever based on his knowledge of God's Law. Notice verse 12, "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law." Now, did you notice what everyone in verse 12 has in common? There are differences, but they share one thing in common. What is it? They have all sinned. They've all sinned. They've all sinned against God and Paul says that God will treat them all impartially at the judgment because He will judge them according to the light they had.

Notice, first of all, those who don't have God's moral Law in writing. That's the first half of the verse, "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law." Those who don't have a written copy of God's moral Law. Now, who are these people? Well, look at verse 14, it's the Gentiles, the Gentiles "do not have the Law." So those who don't have God's moral Law in writing in the first century were primarily Gentiles. Of course, there were exceptions, there were some Gentile proselytes who attached themselves to Judaism, and so forth, but by and large, in the first century the Gentiles didn't have God's Law.

And Paul says, notice what he says in verse 12, that in the case of all the Gentiles who don't have the written Law, but who still sinned, what's going to happen to them? They will, what? Perish. They will perish. Scripture frequently uses this word perish to describe the fate of the wicked. In fact, it's used in the most famous verse in Scripture, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Perishing is the opposite of eternal life. It is eternal death. It is eternal dying. So Gentiles, Paul says, who don't have God's written Law, will be eternally condemned for their sin, however, their punishment will be in keeping with the level of their knowledge.

Turn back to Luke 12. I wish I had time to take you through this entire parable, but let's just get to Jesus's punch line. Luke 12:47,

that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know his master's will, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. [Notice, everyone gets punished, but the punishment varies based on the level of knowledge.] From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Jesus is saying, there will be different levels of punishment in Hell based on the level of one's knowledge of God's will. Now, that is a sobering reality, especially in a church like this. I know that there are people who attend our church who aren't in Christ. Listen, if that's true of you it is far worse for you than it will be for the pagan in the jungle. I mean, Jesus defined it this way.

I was at a conference yesterday and, you know, one of the questions that comes up in the whole debate over homosexuality is, is this the worst sin? And the answer is, no, it's not the worst sin. Jesus is very clear about this. In Matthew 10 He sends out the disciples to share the gospel and He says, if someone doesn't receive the gospel message you bring, He says, understand this, it will be worse for them in the day of judgment than for those who died in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Think about that for a moment. Jesus is the judge and He says, let me tell you how it's really going to go down on the day of judgment. It will be far worse for the people who sat in churches in America and heard the gospel day after day after day and refused, than it will be for those I destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah. Why? Because, think about it, it's the greater affront. To know so much about God, to know so much about His grace, to know about His Son, and then to walk out and say, oh well, I'm not interested in that, what's for lunch? Imagine the affront that is to a holy, creating God who made you and who sustains your life. It will be worse.

There are degrees of punishment in hell and the degrees of punishment will be based not on the level of gross sin, but based on the knowledge you sinned against to get to Hell. Charles Hodge writes, "Those who sin without a written revelation, although they are to be judged fairly and are to be treated less severely than those who enjoy the light of revelation, are still to perish." That's what the text says, but the question is, is that fair? I mean they sinned yes, but how could they even know what sin was? Well, Paul's going to answer that question in verses 14 and 15. It's because they do have some knowledge of God's Law, even though they don't have it in writing, because God has written "the work of the Law" on every human heart. So that's those who don't have God's Law in writing.

Notice the second half of the verse, those who have God's Law in writing, "and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law." Now, as we noted in verses 17 and 18, we're talking about primarily Jews here. Of course, there'd be exceptions again, there would be Jews who grow up in pagan lands and pagan homes, who were never exposed to the Scripture, but by and large, the Jews were those who had God's written Law in the first century. And Paul says, for all who have sinned against the Laws of God they have in writing, notice what he says, God will judge them, literally, through the Law, and in every case those who are judged by or through the Law will be found guilty.

Turn over to chapter 3, Romans 3:9, he says, "we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin." Verses 19 and 20, we read a few minutes ago in the Scripture reading, "every mouth is closed. All the world's 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." Chapter 3 verse 23, "all have sinned." You see, this is where Paul is driving, this is where he's moving.

But go back to chapter 2 verse 12 and note that the key issue, the key issue at the judgment will be what? Sin. Now this is really important because how do most people think? They think, you know, surely God will notice that I have tried to do my best, that I've tried to live a pretty good life. I haven't kicked my dog, haven't beat my wife. I've been a fairly decent person. I've tried to give to good causes. I've tried to help people when they were stalled on the side of the road. I mean, I've done a lot of good things. Surely God's going to notice that.

Listen, God's standard at the judgment will be sin. Have you sinned? That's what verse 12 says. What is sin? Well, the catechism that we taught our children is a great definition of sin. Sin is any transgression of, or lack of conformity to, the Law of God. That's sin. Have you ever broken God's Law? You ever stolen something that wasn't yours? You ever lied? You ever coveted something that didn't belong to you? You ever sinned sexually with your mind or body? And on it goes. Have you transgressed God's Law?

But it doesn't stop there. Sin is also any lack of conformity to God's Law. That's the positive side. Any failure to love God perfectly, any failure to love your neighbor as yourself, is sin. And that will be the standard at the judgment. God will judge every unbeliever based on his knowledge of God's Law. As Hodge puts it, "Men are to be judged by the light they have enjoyed. The ground of judgment is their works. The rule of judgment is their knowledge of God's law." But here's the problem, as Paul is going to show us, every unbeliever has enough knowledge of God's Law in some way or another to condemn him.

Now secondly, Paul points out in this passage, in verse 13, that God will judge every unbeliever based not only on his knowledge of God's Law but on his obedience to God's Law. Paul's major point here is that there's no advantage to having the Law unless you do it, you keep it. Notice first of all, he states it negatively in verse 13, "for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God." Now, just by way of note, he speaks of "hearers of the Law" because that describes the cultural context in which he ministered. That was the normal situation in the first century. Many were unable to read and if they were able to read, they didn't have enough money to buy their own copy of the Scripture and so, therefore, they heard it read at the synagogue on the Sabbath. And Paul says to the Jews, it isn't enough to hear the Scripture read, you have to do it. It's not those who have the Law or who hear the Law that God will declare to have a right standing before Him, but those who keep it. Robert Haldane writes, "the law has not been given as a matter of curiosity or contemplation, but to be obeyed; and the greatest outrage against the law and the legislator," that is, God, "is to hear it and not to take heed to practice it."

Now, in the second half of verse 13, Paul states the same point positively. Notice what he says, "for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified." Now, this is exactly what Paul has already said, notice, back up in verse 7, to those who by persevering in doing good seek for God's glory, seek to be honored by God, seek the things of eternity, immortality, they'll receive eternal life, and they have to persevere in that, and then according to verse 10, they also have to have the practice of good.

What Paul means is this, listen very carefully, only the perfect doers of the Law will be justified by keeping the Law. Robert Haldane writes, "the law demands a full and perfect personal observance of all its requirements - a patient continuance in well-doing - without the least deviation, or the smallest speck of sin, and when it does not find the state of perfection, it condemns the man."

Now look again at verse 13, because we meet here, for the first time in this letter, one of the key words in this letter, the word "justify." I'll define this for you at a later date in a much more full way, but let me just give you a brief definition today. To justify is the legal decision of God, to regard someone as right or just with reference to His Law. The legal decision of God as a judge in which He says, this person has kept My Law. That's to justify. And in the case of this passage, this is the standard of God's judgment. He will only declare as right or just before Him, the one who perfectly keeps His moral Law. Now don't misunderstand, Paul is not saying that anyone will actually be declared right before God by his keeping of the Law. He's saying, if you want to try to be declared right before God by keeping the Law, here's the standard, and it's absolute perfection in terms of keeping God's moral Law, perfect obedience.

John Calvin puts it very well when he writes this, "If righteousness is sought from the law, the law must be fulfilled, for the righteousness of the law consists in the perfection of works. But as all are convicted of transgression, we may say that another righteousness must be sought. Since none of us have perfectly kept it, we need some other righteousness, other than our own." Charles Hodge puts it this way, "He is not speaking of the method of justification available for sinners, as revealed in the gospel, but the principles of justice which will be applied to all who look to the law for justification. If men rely on works, they must have works; they must be doers of the law; they must satisfy its demands, if they are to be justified by it."

Turn to Galatians 3. Galatians 3, Paul is dealing with the issue of justification by faith alone in this chapter and he makes this compelling statement in verse 10, Galatians 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the Law." Stop there. Who is he talking about? He's talking about those who are seeking to be declared right before God based on their own keeping of God's Law. If that's you, if you think you can make heaven based on your own efforts, your own work, here's what he has to say, "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse." God has pronounced a curse on you, if you fall in that category,

if you think you can earn your way to God by your own righteousness. Why? Here's why, he quotes from Deuteronomy, "for it is written 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.'" God looks at you and says, okay, you want to be justified by your works? Then here's the standard, you must abide by all things written in the Law. And the moment you don't abide by all things written in the Law, God curses you. He pronounces a curse upon you. "'Cursed by God is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them.'" This is all of us.

But here's the good news. Look at verse 13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law." He redeemed us from that curse God had pronounced on us because of our failure to perfectly obey His Law. How? "Having become a curse for us." You see, Jesus wasn't under the curse. Why? Because He did abide by all things written in the Law and continued in them. He kept them perfectly. There was no curse on Him from God, because He kept them all, and so He could stand in our place. And for six hours on that Friday 2,000 years ago, God took the curse that He had pronounced on you and me for our lack of obedience to His perfect Law and He put that curse on Jesus and He treated Him as though He had earned that curse. "He became a curse for us."

And here's the amazing thing, the great exchange that we sang about this morning. God then takes the perfection of Jesus Christ, the fact that He did abide by all things written in the Law and continued in them, He takes that perfection and He credits it to our account and He treats us as though we had lived that way. So Christ gets my curse for disobeying God's Law and I get His blessing for having obeyed it. That's the gospel. That's the great exchange.

Do you see why it's so important to understand the bad news? Because when you really comprehend what it would be like for us to stand before God on the day of judgment and if we had sinned, verse 12 says, we would perish. If we hadn't come to abide by all the things written in the Law, then we would be cursed by God forever. But Christ took that curse upon Himself and therefore we get His blessing.

If you're here this morning and you're not in Christ, I plead with you, run from the curse that rests upon you today and find the blessing that's in the person who obeys and follows Jesus Christ. Repent of sin and believe in Him and He will become the curse for you. Let's pray together.

Father, we are astounded by Your grace, amazed that You would do this. Your wisdom, Your love that would drive You to do this at the sacrifice of Your own Son for us. Father, we bless You and we praise You, those of us who are in Christ, that You took the curse that was on us and You placed it on Christ and He became the curse for us. Thank You, O God, that His perfect life of obedience, in turn, becomes ours and that You treat us with the blessing His abiding by all things written in Your Law deserves.

Father, help us to love the gospel, help us to revel in the gospel, help us to live in praise and joy, in adoration of You, because of the gospel, and Father, help us to share the gospel with others, this great exchange.

Father, I pray for those here this morning who still are under Your curse. Help them to see it. O God, help them to understand this isn't the person next to them, this is how You see them, and may they run from the curse that rests on them to Your Son, so that He can become the curse for them. Father, may this be the day of their salvation. May they turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus Christ alone. We pray it for His glory, amen.