" />

We Have No Excuse

Series: Romans

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 4, 2000

Romans 2:1-3

Download Audio

Romans 2:1-3
We Have No Excuse

Open your Bibles, please to Romans chapter 2, as we continue to work our way through this great letter of the apostle Paul to the Romans. Let me remind you where we have come from so far, so you will appreciate Paul’s argument today. In the first half of Romans chapter 1, Paul has introduced us to the subject of the Gospel. We got a taste, even in his introduction, of just how much the Gospel was a part of his life and thinking. Especially in verses 16 and 17, he outlines for us, the theme of his whole book and he tells us that the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation and that in it, the righteousness of God is revealed. And that is incredibly good news. ,

And it is the good news of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ that the apostle Paul is going to spend so much time in this letter explaining. But he recognizes that for those who respond to that announcement of the good news by saying, that is real nice Paul, but I don’t need God’s grace; that is real nice Paul, but I am not a sinner, I don’t need to be saved from my sin; that the good news falls on deaf ears. And so he spends a considerable amount of time in this letter, making it clear that everybody, not just most people, not just a great majority of people, but everybody apart form Christ, needs Christ. Everybody, who is not under the covering of grace which is only found in the Gospel, is in fact under the condemnation of God. And that is in fact, his specific theme from verse 18, of Romans chapter 1 all the way to the end of the chapter in verse 32. He sets before us, and them, this proposition, that everyone knows God, and everyone knows certain things about God and by God, the one true God. And nevertheless, we do not chose to worship God.

In other words, he poses that apart from God’s own grace, all of us are idolaters. And that therefore God’s wrath is being revealed. And He specifies three ways in which it is being revealed in Romans chapter 1. People respond to him, perhaps, we're thinking of a person who is invisibly or silently interacting with Paul’s argument, saying, O Paul, now come on, that is a little bit of a dreary and morbid diagnosis of things, isn’t it? And Paul says, let me give you some empirical evidence of God revealing His wrath.

First of all, he says, if you look at verse 24 of Romans chapter 1, he says that God displays His wrath against universal sin, by giving us over to impure desires. He hands us over to sinful desires. And this silent person in dialogue with Paul says, well, Paul, surely you are not saying that everybody has been given over to impure desires. Paul says, well, let me give you another example of how God deals and displays His wrath against sin. He hand us over to sinful passions. And in verse 26, he speaks of that specifically sinful sexual passion and he illustrates by talking about what was in the Grecco Roman world a pervasive sin. The sin of homosexuality. And he says, look, you can see, even in this highly intelligent society evidence of God’s wrath against all of your sin because of your idolatry displayed in homosexuality. That is the display of God’s wrath against sin. It is the consequence of God’s judgment upon your culture that you are seeing this pervasively in your society.

And then someone comes back to him and says, yeah, but Paul, not all of us have that problem. And he says, yes that is true, but let me give you twenty-one other sins which you all do have. And so beginning in verse 28, he outlines for you twenty-one other sins that are pervasive in society. And he says, as a matter of fact, the pervasiveness of those sins in your hearts, is the display of God’s wrath against your depravity. As you abandon God in your thinking, God abandons you to your thinking. And that thinking is corrupted and therefore it leads not only to wrong thinking, but wrong behavior, and he gives a list of them there. It is not a comprehensive list, but it is a list that is long enough that nobody in this room or in the original room in which this epistle was read or anywhere else in the world can possibly say, well that is real nice, this letter doesn’t have anything to say to me. Oh no, this letter has something to say to everyone. They may not want to hear it, but it has something to say to everyone. And so the apostle Paul is speaking primarily to this point of the Gentile world. And he is bringing an argument which shows that Gentiles are sinners, they are in need of his Gospel, and therefore, His Gospel really is good news for them, if they will listen, if they will take stock of their own hearts, they will recognize that they have a need that only be supplied in the Gospel itself.

But Paul is not finished. Paul recognizes that there is another audience listening to this particular audience. And that audience may not be shot through with the same kinds of dramatic and deviant sins which he has dealt with from verse 24 to the end of the chapter. And yet that audience is just as much in need of his Gospel as the previous audience to which he was speaking. And so now he begins an argument against a new audience. That is where we are today in Romans chapter 2. As Paul now turns his targets on a slightly different audience. And it is an audience we need to take heed of, because it looks an awful lot like us. So let’s hear God’s holy Word, attentively and reverently in Romans 2, verses 1-3.

"Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?"

Thus ends this reading of God’s holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we ask for the light of Your own knowledge, the Holy Spirit, that we might understand Your Word, we ask that You would open our hearts, that all here this day, would seriously deal with the challenge which Paul brings us in this passage. That we would realize that this word is Your word of truth. We pray, O God, that we would not only understand in our minds, this truth, but we would embrace it in the very depth of our hearts and that we would be transformed by it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Imagine you were in a tent somewhere or in a building and you were listening to a fiery preacher, or perhaps a social critic, who was bringing incessant strident charges against immoral behavior, in the church or in the community. Calling down God’s condemnation of that particular behavior. Calling for people to revolt against that kind of behavior. To eradicate it, to correct it. If you are sitting there and you are nodding, yes, that is right, that is right, those people do need to be, if we could just get those people out of our community, out of our church, everything would be fine, and suddenly that preacher, that social critic turns and he says, now for you, I have dealt with them, but now I have got something I want to say to you. And his opening words are, "Therefore, you are without excuse." How would you respond to that? That is precisely what Paul does in this passage. Paul has given examples of relatively gross open and deviant immorality, especially in verses 26 and 27, but throughout that whole end of the passage from 28-31, he has given examples of sins which are pretty apparent to the eye. You could not engage in many of those things and hide it from view.

However, the apostle knows that is not the only kind of sin. And the apostle knows that all sin condemns. And therefore, he is now concerned, not simply to address the openly immoral, but to address those who are outwardly moral while being inwardly sinful, untouched by the grace of God, untrusting in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I would like you to watch Paul’s argument. It is a very simple argument here in verses 1, 2, and 3. And I would like you to see three stages in that argument. He opens up with a very strange phrase. He says, therefore you have no excuse. Now, that is a little bit confusing because it doesn’t seem to follow directly on what has been said. He has been speaking about a particular group, in this case, predominantly Gentiles. Now he is speaking to a predominately religious community. In this case, the Jews, and he says therefore, you have no excuse. 'Therefore' doesn’t seem to follow on what has been said immediately prior to it. But in fact, he is announcing his conclusion before he demonstrates it here. Because it is so certain. In other words, he is saying, in verses 1, 2, 3, he is going to show you why you are 'therefore now without excuse.' And he tells us his conclusion before he demonstrates it. And in verses 1, 2, and 3, he tells us the following things.

I. God's judgment is upon outwardly moral people who are apart from Christ in the gospel.
First in verse 1, he says you who feel superior to immoral Pagans, are guilty of the same thing. In other words, Paul is saying, that God’s judgment is not only on grossly openly immoral people. God’s judgment is upon outwardly moral people who are apart from Christ in the Gospel. For the apostle Paul there are only two types of people in the world. Those who are in Christ, and those who are not. But of those who are not in Christ, they display their irreligious, their Paganess in different ways. Some of them, are openly immoral, others, however, are incredibly nice and moral people. And the apostle Paul says, having set aside these grossly depraved folk for a few moments, I would like to talk with you nice moral people, who are not in Christ. And his word is this: You, too, are under God’s condemnation. Everyone who is not in Christ, everyone who has not experienced the grace of Christ. Everyone who has not found the peace of the gospel, Paul says, no matter how nice you are, no matter how outwardly moral you are, you are guilty of the same kind of sin that you actually criticize in others. The outwardly moral, who have not embraced Christ, the apostle Paul is saying, are self condemned hypocrites.

That is incredibly strong language. Why is he saying this? Well, he tells you in verse 1, because he says, at whatever point, you judge the other person, you are condemning yourself because you the judge are practicing the same things the apostle is bringing against this particular group to whom he is talking, the same charge that Jesus brought against the Jewish religious leaders of his day. In Matthew chapter 7, Luke chapter 6. He is bringing the charge of hypocrisy. These people believe in high standards. They believe in moral standards. They think that moral standards are important. They are horrified when moral standards are not upheld in their community. Nevertheless, thought they clearly see the sins of others, they have not come to grips with their own sins. They are quick to say ah ha, that person is immoral. Ah ha. That type of behavior is immoral and it needs to condemned. But they have no realization that they themselves are in the same fundamental predicament. They are sinners apart from God in rebellion against Him. Their very outwardly moral behavior has blinded them to the fact that apart from Christ and apart from the Gospel, the same faith awaits them.

And so the apostle Paul says, and now for you respectable people. You remember I told you that Paul was an equal opportunity critic. Well, he is proving it again today. He is turning his targets right on those who are respectable, they are nice, they are outwardly moral, but they are under condemnation. And he draws a very unflattering parallel between the bad Pagan and the good Pagan. By the bad Pagan, I mean that openly immoral Pagan, by the good Pagan, I mean the person who looks outwardly moral. Remember in verse 32. The apostle has said, as part of his condemnation of the openly immoral Pagan, the bad Pagan, he said, the bad Pagan knows right from wrong, the bad Pagan knows that God is going to judge the wrong. But the bad Pagan chooses to do the wrong, he enjoys doing the wrong, and not only does he enjoy doing the wrong, he encourages others to do that which he knows is wrong. And the apostle Paul sees that as just the epitome of depravity; that you know something is wrong, you do it yourself, you enjoy it yourself. And you encourage other people to join you in doing it.

But then the apostle turns to these outwardly moral people apart from the Gospel and he says, and you know what you do? You know right from wrong, you condemn wrong in others, you acknowledge the standard of right and wrong, but then you know what you do? You practice the very same thing that you condemn. What is Paul saying? He is saying, there is a sense in which you are worse than they are. At least the outwardly immoral Pagan is living consistently with his desires, and with his supposed profession. But you condemn things that are wrong in others, and yet the same sins are to be found in your hearts. Paul is going after hypocrisy here. Those whose outward lives are characterized by certain moral standards. And yet, who have never come to grips with their own sin, the sin of their heart, have never realized their need for grace. And subsequently think that the basic problem is that periphery of people who are immoral. If we just clean that up, everything would be fine. And they basically think that they are in good standing with God because they are nice people. And therefore, they don’t think that Paul’s radical gospel is for them. And the apostle says, oh no, what we have here is hypocrisy.

Now there are different kinds of hypocrisy. And those kinds of hypocrisy are reflected not only in our experience, they are even reflected in the Bible. There is what you might call diverting hypocrisy. Hypocrisy that is committing serious sin, but focusing your attention on someone else’s relatively less serious sin, so that won’t have the time to focus on the more serious sin which is being perpetrated by the hypocrite. You see this in the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. You remember when Jesus says, you know, the Pharisees will tithe even the smallest of plants, mint, dill, cumin, and yet they will ignore the weightier matters of the law. They will get very detailed and particular and they will criticize you until the cows come home about what you do with regard to your tithing. Well, I even tithe my small patch of household herbs. What about you? And they will be judgmental and censorious towards others who don’t measure up to them in that area and yet in the more significant things of life, they totally miss the point. You know, sadly that is exactly the case with David, when Nathan had to come and confront him. Here was a man who knew better, but he has committed the grossest of sins, and for a period of almost nine months, he showed no remorse for the sins that he had committed. And his friend and prophet, Nathan and told him a story about a man who had stolen the one sheep from a poor man and had taken that sheep and slaughtered it. And David was incensed. He was morally enraged and he said that man deserves to die. And Nathan’s response was, David, you’re the man. And by that, he meant, David you have done far worse than this. Can you tell me that that man deserves to die? I am telling you that you have done fifteen times what that man has done. Because you have murdered a man and you have taken his wife, you haven’t taken a sheep, you have taken a wife who doesn’t belong to you and you killed a man for her. And suddenly David realized that he had the heart of the Pharisee by speaking acronistically. See, the hypocrite will often times divert attention from his own wickedness by pointing to something less sinful in another person. And the apostle is saying, that is precisely what is happening among outwardly moral people who bring great condemnation towards gross immoral behavior and yet do not reckon with their own sin before God.

A friend of mine just a week or so ago, told be a very sad story about a minister in another denomination in another country, who just a few years ago, ten years ago, had become very exercised about a particular sin, and he brought a resolution to the General Assembly of that denomination and he was vehement and adamant that that resolution be passed against this particular sin. It was a relatively peripheral thing. He was exercised about it, and he was angered about it when the General Assembly would not pass his particular resolution. He accused them of unfaithfulness. It was discovered just a few years later, that he was absolutely overwhelmed during this period of time by homosexual pornography and later entered into a homosexual relationship, he has renounced the faith, he is now the leading gay rights activist in his country. And suddenly his actions and his attitudes had a new light shined on them. He was wanting to focus everyone’s attention on another sin, while protecting himself from God’s searching judgment on his own heart. And my friends, are there many among us, is there any among us today, who has never, ever engaged in that kind of behavior?

And then there is of course, there is we might call corresponding hypocrisy. It is not just diverting attention to lesser things. Sometimes we are doing the very things that we are condemning in others. We become very exercised about crimes in others, when we ourselves are doing the same thing. You know, it is just possible that when Jesus is confronting the Pharisees who have confronted the woman in adultery, in John 8, that when he says, that you who are without sin cast the first stone. It is just possible that he is not simply saying, that those of you who are generically without sin, cast the first stone. It is possible that Jesus is saying, that those of you Pharisees who are not guilty of the sin of adultery, you cast the first stone against her. It is possible that Jesus is bringing that precise charge against the Pharisees. That they are exercised about a sin in a woman of which they themselves are guilty. Certainly, we have seen something of that in our own national experience. Without passing any judgment whatsoever on the moral or the political implications of a very sad event in our own nation’s history, let me take you back to the House impeachment inquiry as we were dealing with our President. One of the things that made people cynical, one of the things that undercut people’s trust in the process, whatever you think of that process, was that the chairman of the committee looking into these allegations, yes of perjury, but also of sexual misconduct, had also himself broken up a marriage years before. And the speaker of the house, we came to know later on, was in that very time involved in an elicit affair with a woman who was not his wife, as was the man who would have become his successor. No wonder people were cynical. And sometimes, we can bring judgment against the very thing which we ourselves are doing. And the apostle Paul is saying, my friends, apart from Christ, my friends who are respectable and upstanding and even church going but who have never, ever recognized that their sin deserves hell. And that only Christ has saved them, he is saying you are better, you are in no different situation from the most gross and deviant idolatrous sinner. Apart from Christ’s grace, you are in no different situation. For you pass judgment on others, and your very judgment condemns yourself, because you are guilty of the same kind of sin. It may be different in its specifics, but it is the same in particular because all sin flows from idolatry. And therefore you are without excuse.

Paul, by the way, is not arguing that judgment of other people or of other behaviors outside of the norm of God’s law is wrong. There would be times, there are times where it is not only appropriate, but it is necessary to engage in that kind of judgment. Many of you may have seen the interview of the parents of the young man who shot the teacher in Florida last week. It was appalling. One expects parents to be loving of a child even in the worst of circumstances, but there were attempts to justify and to downplay the actions of this young man. The mother says, my son has so much to offer the world. I hope the judicial system will recognize that and will give him the chance to do it. Because my son is the perfect son and everyone would want to have my son. The father describes this action whereby a husband and a father of three was wrongfully killed, the father describes this as an unfortunate incident which resulted in someone passing away. It was almost humorous, if it weren’t so devastating. In that kind of circumstance it is absolutely appropriate and necessary to bring to bear judgment. But the apostle Paul is saying this. If you are apart from Christ, and you are apart from the Gospel, have you ever sat under the searching judgment of God’s truth in you own life? To see what you deserved, and have you ever agreed with His verdict on you and run to Him, and said Father of mercy, you ought to condemn me, but I rest in Christ, have mercy on me. And so Paul says, that God’s judgment is on outwardly moral people who are apart from Christ.

II. God's judgment, unlike human judgment, is always according to truth.
But he is not done yet. In verse 2, he goes on to say, that God’s judgment is just and we know that God’s judgment is just. In fact, God’s just judgment is indicated even in our judgment of wickedness. But God’s judgment unlike human judgment is always according to truth. Notice the phrase he uses, 'we know, that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.' The judgment of God rightly falling on them means that God’s judgment is in accordance with the truth. It accords with the facts of the case. It id done impartially. He doesn’t play favorites. His punishment fits the crime. His judgment always is correct. He acquits those who are innocent. He condemns those who are guilty. The Lord is coming to judge the earth, the Psalmist says in Psalms 96:13, and he will judge the world in righteousness. He will judge the world in faithfulness and that is what Paul is saying here. God’s judgment is appropriate. God’s judgment is just, His judgment is unimpeachable. It cannot be called into question. And every assault upon that judgment of God, is not only vain, but it is essentially atheistic. When we look at God’s judgment, and call it into question, Lord how could you do that? Lord it was wrong for You to do this particular thing in my life, then we are in fact, calling into question what God tells us in His word.

And what Paul tells us here, we all already know. Paul has already told us that we know that God’s wrath is justified. We know that His justice is right. Our very engagement in condemning other things is proof that we know that those things are wrong. Even as we are engaging in them ourselves. Our conscience itself, is convicting us. And so, Paul says God’s judgment is always according to truth. Just because we know something, is wrong, doesn’t spare us from condemnation. For it is not the possession of the truth which saves us from condemnation, it is the action of righteousness, and if we are unrighteous people, then the only thing that can save us from condemnation, is the righteous action of another imputed to us. And so the apostle Paul says here, that God’s judgment is according to truth, and then he goes on to say in verse 3, that God’s judgment is inescapable.

III. God's judgment is inescapable.
Don’t think, he says, don’t think then that there is anyway to elude God’s just condemnation apart from the gospel. The you in verse 3 is emphatic in order to negate the thought that this person can avoid the judgment and condemnation of God. Paul can say, in II Corinthians 5:10, we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Paul in verse 3, of Romans chapter 2 is saying even more than that. He is not only saying that God will judge, and that God will judge rightly, but he is saying that God’s judgment against those who have not acknowledged their own sin, who have not fled to Christ, God’s judgment will result in condemnation. That is the only possible verdict. And not only in condemnation, but in carrying out the sentence. Because you know it is an ironic thing, the only escape from God’s judgment is to accept God’s judgment. The only escape from God’s judgment is to acknowledge that His judgment is right, to embrace that judgment and say, yes, Lord, You are right about me. I do deserve condemnation. That is the very kernel of repentance, my friends. When you say Lord, You are right about me, and I have been wrong about me all along, I have tried to justify myself before you, I have no argument. You are right about me, I do deserve condemnation, but I am running to Your Son, and I am going to trust Him. Please see not me, in your judgment, but Your Son. That is faith, that is trusting in Jesus Christ. Accepting God’s judgment of us. Yes, I fall short, yes I deserve Your condemnation, yes I deserve hell, but I run to Christ, I trust Him, I have faith in Him. Credit His righteousness to my account. That is faith. And so it is an irony that the only person, the only person that escapes the judgment of God, is the person who first accepts the judgment of God, and then runs to Christ, who Himself bore the judgment of God, that we might never ever bear it.

Oh, my friends, you see Paul’s argument is airtight. That is why he can begin, "therefore you are without excuse." We are guilty of the very things that we judge in others. God’s judgment is always appropriate. It is always according to truth and it is inescapable. Therefore, we are without excuse. You remember we said the last time we were together, that word excuse is a technical legal term drawn from the courtroom, it means a person’s standing before the judge and the jury and the prosecutor without a rational argument. We are defenseless, Paul is saying. If God brings this charge against us, and he tells us, He certainly will, then we have no response, unless we have the response of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And by the way, my friends, what a better way to begin sharing the gospel? For a person who has known that they deserved to be condemned and has found the freedom of forgiveness in Christ, doesn’t need a course in rocket science in order to share the reality of salvation in Jesus Christ. I once was lost and now I am found in Christ. Let me tell you about that. I once was condemned and now I have been acquitted and freed and blessed and included in the family. I once was a rebel and now I am a son. What a wonderful way to begin a Gospel conversation. And the apostle Paul says to all of us today, unless you have had that experience of seeing your sin and then seeing the Savior, then you are in no different situation than the immoral, openly, godless Pagan, who is seeing his life even now go to the logical conclusion of rebellion against God. Sooner or later, the same fate will be yours, unless you accept God’s judgment now, and ask for Christ as your substitute. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we bow before You, we honor, we bless You. We ask that you would give us some inkling of the truth that you have set before us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.