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God’s Righteous Judgment December 7, 2010

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 2:1-16.

Summary: In this passage, Paul shows (in a somewhat indirect manner) that the Jews are also deserving of death based on 1:32, since they, along with the Gentiles, commit the sins in 1:29-31. Charles Hodge does a superb job of summarizing the five key principles by which God will judge all men that are presented in this passage, so I will simply quote from his commentary:

1. The person who condemns in others what he does himself by that very act condemns himself.
2. God’s judgments are according to the real character of men.
3. The goodness of God, being designed to lead us to repentance, is no proof that he will not punish sin. The perversion of that goodness will increase our guilt and aggravate our condemnation.
4. God will judge every man according to his deeds, not according to his words or his ecclesiastical connections or background.
5. Men will be judged by what they individually know to be their duty. Therefore God is perfectly impartial.

Thoughts: Verse 4 serves as a strong warning to those who believe that 1) due to His bountiful kindness, God will not punish sin or 2) if the Second Coming was not a fable, it would have already occurred. A cursory reading of various Old Testament prophecies, coupled with a superficial knowledge of the history of Israel, should remind us that while it is not uncommon for God to be patient with sinners, He eventually punishes those who remain in their sins. In those cases, He (patiently) gave sinners sufficient opportunities to repent and throw themselves at His feet. Those who abuse God’s loving patience will eventually be judged, and this judgment will be extremely unpleasant.

If one were to read this passage in isolation, especially verse 6, it would appear that Paul is promoting the doctrine of “salvation by works” instead of the doctrine of “salvation by grace through faith.” Hodge addresses this issue as follows:

In answering this question, two things should be borne in mind. The first is that, notwithstanding the teaching of free justification and perfectly consistent with it, the apostle still teaches that the retributions of eternity are in accordance with our deeds…Secondly, it is, however, more pertinent to note that the apostle is not teaching here the method of justification but is laying down general principles about justice, according to which, irrespective of the Gospel, all men are to be judged.

In fact, Paul notes elsewhere in his teachings that people are rewarded or punished in the next life based on their deeds in this life; for example, see 2 Corinthians 5:10 and and Ephesians 6:8. Thus, salvation by grace through faith does not offer Christians a license to sin. James 2:14-26 furnishes further evidence of the strong link between faith and works. Based on this evidence, if someone professes to be saved while leading a life of sin, their salvation may not be genuine.

In his commentary on verses 9 and 10, Hodge notes that one can infer that Jews who do evil will be punished “more severely” than Gentiles who do evil due to their knowledge of the law, while Jews who do good will be “especially rewarded” compared to Gentiles who do good. This raises a question that I have struggled with for quite some time, namely, how can there be distinct degrees of punishment (or reward) in the next life? If an unbeliever were to be tossed into the lake of fire for eternity, I wonder how their suffering could be increased or decreased compared to that of other unbelievers; would certain regions of the lake of fire be hotter than other regions? Similarly, in heaven, could a rescued believer’s joy be increased or decreased based on their deeds during this life? Along these lines, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 possibly indicate that one can be saved in a less-than-victorious fashion. Unfortunately, Hodge does not address this issue, at least not in this section of his commentary.

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