Sermon – June 6, 2021
Romans is known for its encouraging and uplifting passages. Few texts are quite as faith building and theologically rich as 3:21-26; few can encourage us in good works as 6:15-19; few are as uplifting in suffering as 8:18-39. These are the bright lights that many consider the heart of the epistle. Yet, we are not in these bright lights, but in Paul’s ongoing discussion of idolatry, sin, and judgment. But, even in these dark themes, we can see the light of the gospel shine brightly. Today, as we consider again God’s judgment, let us hear afresh the good news of Jesus’ grace.
1. God’s judgment and our works
Paul affirms that God’s judgment is, both in the negative and positive senses, according to our works. Those who patiently do good will receive good; those who do evil, wrath and fury. Now, many take this to be strictly hypothetical, but it would appear otherwise. We are told that people who act in certain ways, generally labelled the “unrighteous” will not inherit the Kingdom of God (see 1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:21). The clear indication is that we are fit for the Kingdom based on what we do. Certainly, this is a judgment of our works. We are left with this outcome, then. While we are saved wholly by the free grace and good mercy of our God, that grace ought to indeed be seen as powerful, as it changes us fundamentally from idolaters who yield sin through our idolatry, to those who worship God aright and as a result produce good fruit. Our good works do not cause our salvation; but our salvation must cause good works.
2. God’s judgment and his law
Paul pushes matters further, arguing that it is not those who have the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but those who are doing what the law commands. Gentile Christians, who by the promise of God and the work of the Spirit, have the law written inside of them, demonstrate that they indeed have been saved for they keep the law. Their consciences also bear witness to this, as they are continually being shaped by the Spirit and the word of God. Again, we have pressed into us the fact that our idolatry has been removed by the work of Christ, and that in his remaking us, we have wholly new lives to be lived in the service of God.