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The Universality of Sin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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December 1, 2023 12:01 am

The Universality of Sin

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 1, 2023 12:01 am

No one is excluded from the judgment that sin deserves, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Today, W. Robert Godfrey opens the book of Romans to depict the universal need of saving grace in Christ.

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We suppress the truth.

We obey unrighteousness. Paul's reminding us that this picture of God is not the picture of God that most people have today. Even many, many people in churches don't have any conception of a God who is angry with sin.

But that's a real problem for us, isn't it? God can't really be angry, can he? But the Scripture says he's angry with the wicked every day.

That truth remains even if nobody believed it. We all need a Savior, because sin, as we learned yesterday, is serious. And as we'll learn today, we're all sinners by nature. Thanks for joining us for this Friday edition of Renewing Your Mind, as we conclude a week's study of the early portions of Romans. These messages are from W. Robert Godfrey's new series on Romans titled, Not Ashamed. And today is the final day to request your copy for a gift.

Or a donation of any amount at Ask a stranger on the street, and they'll probably tell you that they're a good person. Ask the Apostle Paul, look to the infallible testimony of God's Word, and you'll hear there is none righteous.

No, not one. For the final time this week, let's hear from Dr. Godfrey, as today he teaches on the universality of sin. Well, we're looking at this second section of Paul's letter to the Romans, and last time we looked at how he makes the case for the seriousness of sin, that all sin deserves the punishment of death. And now as we move into chapter 2 of Romans, we're going to see Paul's argument for the universality of sin. And again, the character of his argument has been debated.

Sometimes it is a little confusing as to how he's moving, what the point he's making. But again, I think if we keep clearly in mind the conclusion that he reaches, we'll be much helped in figuring out what he's arguing along the way. And the conclusion he reaches, he expresses in Romans 3, 23, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So, in moving towards that conclusion, it really is impossible to suggest that somewhere along the line, Paul is going to say, but of course, not everyone sins. Taken in the abstract, there are a couple of verses in chapter 2 that could be interpreted in that way. But in light of the conclusion he reaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it cannot be that that's what he's actually arguing in chapter 2, unless you're comfortable in thinking that Paul in chapter 3 has forgotten what he wrote in chapter 2 and contradicted himself. That's just really not likely.

In fact, it's impossible. So, as we go into chapter 2, we want to keep that in mind. And in terms of the universality of sin, it's interesting that Paul is really going to talk a lot about judgment and about the law. And those are both themes that appeal to Roman Christians. So, it'll be interesting to see how he uses those concepts to advance his argument here about the universality of sin. And we see that already in the very first verse of chapter 2 and in the way Paul pursues chapter 2 because this is one of the great places where he surprises us. So, he's talked about the seriousness of sin. He's talked about how God is punishing sin with death. And then in chapter 2 he writes, Therefore, you have no excuse, O man. Now, there's an interesting shift that takes place here. He has been talking to them, and now he's talking to you.

He's making it much more personal, much more direct. And, therefore, you have no excuse, O man. And you can almost see the Roman Christians sitting there nodding thinking, That's right, those sinners have no excuse. Those sinners have no excuse. Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, when you sin.

It's not what Paul says, is it? He says, Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. Oh, wait a minute, I was just sitting here judging. I was just sitting here judging all those sinners, all those sinners who commit sins that I'm not tempted to. I'm good at judgment on sin that I'm not tempted to.

And he's caught them up short, hasn't he? What do you mean, you have no excuse if you judge? Isn't the whole point of recognizing sin to judge it and reject it? And what Paul is saying here is that when we as fallen human beings set ourselves up as judges, that pretty much means that we are excusing ourselves and judging others. And so, what he's out to reveal here is his opposition to all self-righteousness and hypocrisy. And of course, that's one of the great besetting sins of moral people, isn't it? It's one of the great besetting sins of Jews in history. It's one of the great besetting sins of Christians in history, that it becomes easy to judge others and avoid realizing that we're guilty of some of the exact same things that we are judging in others.

And Paul isn't having any of that. He's pressing the point of the universality of sin, and that includes people who think that they are self-righteous and can stand in judgment. For in passing judgment on another, you condemn yourself because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

And that's all too often the case in history, isn't it? That we condemn what we also practice. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.

Do you suppose, O man, you who judge those who practice such things, and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? You see the universal extent now of his application of the seriousness of sin to all who are hearing him or who are reading what he has said. And then another kind of interesting shift in the direction of his thought, he says, Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? And what he's saying there is a lot of people would say, well, God can't be all that angry with sin because he doesn't judge it very often. Look at all the times gone by with sinners getting away with their sins.

I guess he doesn't take it all that seriously. And Paul is interpreting history for us here and says God's patience is not a sign that he's not truly angry with sin. It's a sign of his kindness giving you time to repent.

And that's the question. Are you repenting? And what is at the heart of repentance? At the heart of repentance is a recognition of sin being sin. You never can repent of a sin that you don't recognize as being a sin.

And that's what Paul is pressing here. What do we know? How do we know it? How do we recognize ourselves in relation to the reality of sin? And then he goes on in verse 5, but because of your hard and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. And maybe by now the Roman Christians are saying, why does he keep saying you?

He can't surely mean us. There are sinners in this world, but surely not us. But you see, Paul is making this point that the wrath of God will be revealed at the last day in a terrible way. And the question is, will you have recognized what that wrath is like before that day comes so there is time for repentance? And then Paul says, and this is one of these verses in chapter 2 that can be easily misunderstood, he will render to each one according to his works.

To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. So isn't he really saying that God will judge according to works, and if your works are good, you'll be okay?

Well, you see, that might be theoretically possible if Paul had a different religion than the one he does. But the religion he's teaching says God will render to each one according to his works. And if it were possible for someone to really pursue glory and honor and immortality, they could earn their relationship to God by that life. But you notice he's not saying if you did a few good works, that would get you through the judgment. He's saying if your whole life was characterized by recognizing the glory due to God and recognizing the honor due to your own body and by recognizing the immortality that God has planted in the human soul and in his own life, if you really lived your whole life living out the implications of that general revelation, then you could stand in the judgment.

But, there's a but implied in this, but the problem is nobody lives that way. Nobody lives a life pervasively characterized by pursuing the glory of God, the honor of the man made in the image of God, and immortality. Rather, we are self-seeking. We suppress the truth. We obey unrighteousness.

And what will come to that? Wrath and fury. This reminds us, Paul's reminding us that this picture of God is not the picture of God that most people have today. Many, many people in churches don't have any conception of a God who is angry with sin. And that's why we all like to hear Sinclair Ferguson preach, because he can say wrath in such a way that it really brings it home.

But that's a real problem for us, isn't it? We like ourselves so well, it's hard to believe God doesn't like us just as much. God can't really be angry, can he? But the Scripture says he's angry with the wicked every day. And it doesn't get us anywhere to suppress that truth.

That truth remains even if nobody believed it. And Paul is pressing this point. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first, and also the Greek. The liability of sin falls on every human being. And for every human being who does good, there will also be blessing, for God shows no partiality. He is impartial in his judgment to Greeks and to Jews. In other words, he's fair to everybody, and he's fair to everybody in light of how they live. And he goes on to clarify how that can be, that Jews and Greeks will be treated similarly because they've had different revelation.

The Greeks have only had general revelation, whereas the Jews have had special revelation. And he says in verse 12, For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, meaning the law of Moses. And all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

You have to do the law for it to be a way to life. And he again wants to make the point that's true of Jews as well as of Gentiles. So he speaks first of the Gentiles, verse 14. For when the Gentiles who do not have the law by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

On that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. There's a law in every human being, in every human heart. There are remnants of the moral law of God with which we were created, and those remnants remain in the human heart. And they testify as to what's right and what's wrong. It may not be a perfect testimony, but it is a witness-bearing reality in our hearts. We know there's some things good and some things bad.

There's some things right and there's some things wrong. And the most wicked person in the world has some sense of that difference. And on the basis of that sense, we will be judged, Paul says. So, again, God is fair. God does not judge us on what we don't know. He judges us on what we know. And He judges us on what we do in light of what we know. And Paul says, so theoretically we could be excused.

And in effect, he says, so take a hard look at yourself. Would you excuse yourself if you're being honest? Would you say you've lived up to the moral code that you've set for yourself? That's what God's going to ask on the last day. Have you lived up to the moral code you've set for yourself? And what Paul really concludes is, no, we're not doing that.

We're not succeeding at that. And so God's justice and God's judgment will be right and will be fair in the law that we have. And having talked then about the Gentile with the moral law, echoes of the moral law planted in the soul and in the mind, then Paul turns to the Jews. But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know His will and approve what is excellent because you are instructed from the law, and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? And he's really now using a whole series of ways in which the Jews had boasted of what they had received and what a difference what they had received had made for them so that they could be a guide to the blind, to the morally blind, so that they could be a light to those who dwell in darkness, that they could be an instructor of the foolish and a teacher of children because they have the law that embodies the truth. And so they can boast of their relationship to God. We are the ones to whom God has given such things, and we are teaching the world about these things. And Paul says, oh, that's true up to a point.

Oh, that's good up to a point. So the question is, you who teach others, have you taught yourself? You who teach others, have you taught yourself? Why you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say you must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?

You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For as it is written, you notice how Paul once again is saying, you know, this isn't just Paul complaining.

This isn't just Paul looking at the contemporary scene that he faces. But Paul says, I'm just saying what Isaiah and Ezekiel said, the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. You claim to have the law, and you claim to keep the law, and you claim to teach the law, but the people who know you know you don't. You don't keep the law. And of course, you know, one of the great purposes of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount wasn't to call his hearers to really reflect on the searching character of the law. Many of the Pharisees have been content just to turn the law into an external checklist, and Jesus is pressing that. If you're angry, you've committed murder.

If you look with lust, you've committed adultery. The law searches much more deeply into the heart than people have recognized because there's a great purpose to the law. One might say the first purpose of the law, and Paul will say this over and over again in this book and elsewhere in his writings, the first purpose of the law is to teach us that we're sinners. The first purpose of the law is not to teach us how to live. It has that purpose. It has that function.

It can be very helpful in that. And of course, Paul wants to say it is no purpose of the law to suggest that we'll be made right with God by the law. The first purpose of the law is to say, do you in seeing the revelation of God's holiness see that you're not holy? Paul really makes that point in Romans 3.20, Romans 5.20, Romans 7.7, Galatians 3.19, over and over again. The law teaches us that we're sinners. If we haven't learned that we're sinners, we don't know the first thing about the law. And Paul is pressing that then upon these listeners and saying to the Jews, you know, it's not just that you're sinners. You're notorious sinners. The whole world talks about you as sinners. You've caused the name of God to be blasphemed amongst the nations.

And again, he's really laboring, isn't he, to sort of break them with the law. But you can sense how Paul feels the resistance. Sinners don't want to be told they're sinners. Sinners don't want to admit that they're sinners. Sinners certainly don't want to have to face their own helplessness as sinners. But that's what Paul is pressing here, and that's why he began this whole section, as I keep saying, we have to have revealed to us the wrath of God against sin. It doesn't come naturally to us.

It doesn't come easily to us. And so, Paul is saying the great purpose of the law, whether you're a Gentile just with the law in your heart, or whether you're a Jew with a law in your hands written by Moses, the great purpose of that is to recognize that you're a sinner. And he presses that then by talking about circumcision in a surprising way. Again, Paul is constantly surprising, and here relative to circumcision, he wants to say the great truth about circumcision is not a physical reality. The great truth about circumcision was always going to be a spiritual reality.

Do you have a circumcised heart? We can say it's the same thing with baptism, isn't it? The great truth about baptism is, have you been baptized so as to realize that you're sinners needing to be washed by the blood of Jesus Christ?

If you only have water, it doesn't do you much good. The water points to the blood, and does the blood cleanse us from sin? The same is true with circumcision. Circumcision, too, was a sign of the covenant of grace. It was meant to testify to the need to be saved by God. And if you conclude from circumcision that having had a physical mark put upon your body you're now safe in the sight of God, you've missed the whole point.

You've boasted in exactly the wrong thing. And so Paul, I'm sure, really shocked the Jews in the group by saying, someone who's circumcised in the heart is the really circumcised, even if he's not circumcised in the flesh. Hmm, now that's going a little far.

That's overdoing it. But you see, he's really stressing this point that the great blessing the Jews possessed, the great blessing the Jews possessed, was having the Word of God. And what Paul keeps pressing through this whole letter is, have you listened to the Word of God? Have you understood the Word of God? Have you embraced the Word of God?

That's the great question, and that's what the issue is here. No, you've just embraced externals. You've boasted in the wrong thing. You've not boasted that the law taught you that you were a sinner. You've boasted that you're not a sinner.

At the very time that you are a sinner, and that the world sees that you're a sinner. And here's the tragedy, and here's the need for salvation. This is what you need to be rescued from.

You need to be rescued from the very things in which you are trusting. And God, in revealing this, shows at all times his righteousness, his reliability, his goodness. And so, Paul is exalting God in this wonderful way, and reminding them that they have advantages, but they may not be seeing the true advantage that they have. And that's what they need to see.

And so, he's moving, you see, in this direction of his great conclusion. There is none righteous, no, not one. Not one Gentile, because they don't live according to the moral law in their heart.

Not one Jew, because they don't live according to the real meaning of the law of Moses, and recognize that they're sinners in need of salvation. And then he comes to the sort of great finale of this section, when he begins to quote Old Testament passage after Old Testament passage to prove that there is none righteous, no, not one. That was W. Robert Godfrey, the chairman of Ligonier Ministries, from his new overview of Romans titled, Not Ashamed. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, a donor-supported outreach of Ligonier Ministries. As we begin December, we also begin the largest fundraising month of the year for Ligonier, with the giving in December having a significant impact on the outreach that we're able to accomplish in the new year. If you're able, please consider giving a generous year-end gift at, and we'll send you this complete series from Dr. Godfrey as our way of saying thanks. You can also call us at 800 435 4343. In addition to the DVD, you'll receive digital access to the series and study guide as well. This offer ends today at midnight, so visit to give your gift. Thank you for your support. Why does Renewing Your Mind have such a focus on studying the Bible?

And why should each of us be diligent in our own study of the Scriptures? R.C. Sproul will join us Monday to answer those questions here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-01 03:52:20 / 2023-12-01 04:01:32 / 9

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