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Romans 2 1-3 8 Sermon

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“You Talkin’ to Us?”

Series: “Romans: New Life in Christ”

Romans 2:1-3:8

Theme: The wrath of God is not turned away by visible outward signs; rather, it is turned away by a visible inner transformation.

The wrath of God is only turned away by a visible inner transformation.


John Piper

            Envisions two groups




                                    Maybe I got ahead of myself


                                    Speaking to a group that knows Romans

                                                We know what Paul is building towards

                                                            I wanted to bring it out right away

                                                                        If I were speaking to a group that had never read Romans – I might have preached it differently


You see the indictment: “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up”

            Illustration: Ella at the pool

                        But this is no laughing matter

“wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed”

            Wrath of God – not out of control – controlled and focused

Caused by your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart

            A stubborn heart and unrepentant heart

                        UBS – “your ears have no holes to hear”

                                    You refuse to listen to reason – common sense arguments

Transition: This is what Paul is going to engage in here

            Form of arguing where he anticipates the argument


Anticipates the Jews saying

1 But what about … works (6-11)

This might catch us by surprise

            Knee-jerk reaction is to say, “No, of course not!”

                        We would be keeping in mind Ephesians 2:8-9

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)                            


Works cannot save us


                                                            We can be thankful for that – would never know how much


            But … God does judge according to works

                        1 Corinthians 3:12

Paul speaks of each man’s work as a foundation which the light of the judgment day will bring to expose whether his works were of eternal value or only passing, temporal value.

            Our works express what is in the heart

                        Bible refers to them as fruit

                                    Illustration: At harvest, you harvest corn – you know that corn was planted there

                                    If you harvest beans – you know beans were planted there

                                    You never harvest corn where you planted beans in the spring

Same way: If our life yields good fruit, then we know what is/was planted in our heart

                                                Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruit.”

In our lives, we have a choice – we can either glorify God or we can glorify self

A character in C.S. Lewis’ Book, The Great Divorce, says: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

Paul’s point in these verses: the terms of judgment are the same for everyone – both Jew and Gentile – both religious person and pagan.

2 But what about … the law (12-24)

Again, to us anyway, Paul’s point is obvious – salvation isn’t found in merely possessing the law – it’s obeying the law that counts

            But this is only obvious to us

                        We need to remember what possession of the law meant for the Jew

                                    The Jews received the law because they were the only ones worthy to receive it

                                                Because they were God’s choice

In Deuteronomy 4:8, Moses, as he is reflecting on God’s goodness to the Jewish people says,

"And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?"

            We can see why they place such value on being the possessors of the law

                        Then Paul comes with his most lethal blow against their arguments

                                    Romans 2:21-22

"you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?" (Romans 2:21-22, NIV)

                                                Paul accuses them of hypocrisy

The worst of it: God’s very name is being blasphemed among the Gentiles.

3 But what about … circumcision (25-29)

Paul, here, seems to go right after the Jews trump card

Already in the first century, at the time of Paul’s writing, the sign of circumcision had replaced the significance it represented and, in the words of C.K. Barret, was regarded as a “passport to salvation.”  In contemporary Judaism we find such statements as, “The circumcised do not descend into Gehenna,” or “at the last Abraham will sit at the entrance to Gehenna and will not let any circumcised man of Israel go down there.”  To the average Jew circumcision seems to have carried an unquestionable pledge of security.  The same sign which differentiated Jew from Gentile assured the Jew of his inviolable status with God.”  Salvation seemed to be assured by the ritual of circumcision. 

But for Paul, circumcision was not the covenant itself, instead it was a sign of the covenant.  For Paul, this was more in keeping with why the sign of circumcision was given to Abraham – it was an act of initiation into the community of Israel as a sign of submission to the covenant.

Sometimes we do this very thing with the sacraments today

            Baptism and Lord’s Supper

                        It’s not the sacraments themselves that save us

                                    Instead, it’s what they point to – salvation through the work of Jesus Christ.

4 Then why be a Jew? (3:1-8)

            Outward signs were important to Jews

                        They had strict instructions on such things as what to eat, how to dress, how to wear their hair

                        Paul mentions yet another outward sign – they have been entrusted with the very words of God

We might ask the same question: “If my outward works mean nothing to my being saved or not being saved, then why be a twice to church on Sunday, Sunday afternoon napping, 10% tithing, school supporting Christian?”


What we learn from this passage is that the wrath of God is not turned away by visible outward signs; rather, it is turned away by a visible inner transformation.

In v. 29 – circumcision of the heart

            Circumcision is a “cutting away”

                        A cutting away from the heart


Anthony Hoekema: “We may define sanctification as that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which he delivers us from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to him.”

            Notice pollution-Pollution is the corruption of our nature which is the result of sin and which, in turn, produces further sin.


We are all under the wrath of God, no outward visible sign will save us, only an inner transformation of the heart.  This is our need, we’ll spend one more week thinking about the wrath of God, and then Paul will give us the solution to our need.

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