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God’s Power Discovered In Obedience

Romans 2:1-16

Jim Davis

How many of us would like to be judged by the standards we set for others? It is not hard to figure out how others ought to be living; the standards by which they should live, actually seem quite simple to us. The greatest difficult is applying those seemingly simple standards to our own lives. Personal application of the principles we impose on others is the real test of our sincerity concerning truth. We may know the simple answers for the religious world to find unity in Christ, but how do we fare when it comes to unity. This is the real test of our belief in unity. So it is with a multitude of dilemmas in which we find ourselves.

Romans 2:1-3

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? (NIV)

"The problem, however, is that once you admit that there is a clear standard, truths that are hard and fast to which you can appeal in judgment of others, then you have to be willing to sit under the same standard yourself. And that is what everyone who issues judgment longs to avoid. Loud denunciation of the horrible failings of others does not in any degree alter the facts concerning ourselves." (Steve Zeisler, High-Minded Hypocrisy, http://pbc.org/dp/zeisler/4292.html)

The Essence of the Passage

The essence of this passage has to do with hypocrisy. This is not a lesson on how we should resist judging our fellowman. Nowhere in this passage is Paul rebuking the readers for judging sin as sin. This is no parallel discussion to Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus condemns critical unjustified judgment. The heart of the lesson deals with failing to live up to what we recognize as true. If we are capable of judging what is right and wrong in the lives of others, surely we are competent to discern between right living and wrong living in our own lives. 

The Jews had no difficulty believing in one sovereign God. The Jews had the advantage in that they had a written code by which to live. They prided themselves because of their possession of the law. It had been preserved and passed down by Jews. They felt that a mere possession of the law constituted righteousness. However, they had rewritten the code to fit their own desired lifestyles. 

The greater the knowledge -- the greater the sin. The end result of the Gentile and Jewish approach to living was identical. One was just as ungodly as the other. In reality, the Jews who possessed the law were more ungodly, for they not only understood the sovereignty of God; they also had special written revelation. However, their belief in God made them no different from those who refused to believe in God. Both were without God and without hope. 

Living Powerless Lives

A life without obedience to God is hopeless because it is absolutely powerless. God's eternal power and nature had been made known to both Jew and Gentile. The Gentiles refused to accept the testimony of nature; the Jews refused the written testimony. Both had denied the power of God. It is absolutely essential for both to turn from their self-centered existence and accept the power of God now available to both through believing the gospel of Christ. (1:16-17)

Hypocrisy is powerless to salvage our lives. Hypocrisy is pretense. It is a form of godliness without power to change. Hypocrisy seeks to resist change. It may look for what is wrong in another to justify the wrong in us.In the outset of the lesson I asked this question: " How many of us would like to be judged by the standards we set for others?" A more penetrating question is, How would you like to be judged by the standards you know are right and expect others to live up to, but you are unwilling to adhere to? Such judgment will leave us powerless to salvage our lives.

There are two ways in which we can experience the power of God in our lives. One way is through obedience. When we obey God, God's salvaging power through Jesus Christ is exerted in our lives. The second way we may experience God's power in our lives is through disobedience. Disobedience brings God's power through discipline.

Romans 2:6-9

God "will give to each person according to what he has done."... for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; (NIV)

One way brings good news. The other brings bad news. The power we discover in each is the power witnessed in the resurrection. We have a choice to experience God's salvaging power or his wrath power.

The psalmist says, "One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done." (Psalms 62:11-12 NIV) Solomon wrote, "If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" (Proverbs 24:12 NIV)

Galatians 6:6-8

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (NIV)

We must not overlook the fact that trouble and distress for those who do evil, is experienced in their earthly existence. Paul writes, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them." (Romans 1:18-19 NIV) God has turned the Gentiles over to their own self-destructive ways to run headlong after their own selfish desires. Look at God's temporal judgment against the Jews throughout Old Testament history. 

I was at the laundry washing some quilts. A lady had a roll of quarters lying on the laundry table. She walked off and left them on the laundry table, as she busied herself with her laundry. When she came back, I said, "You must be a trusting soul to leave your money like that.” She replied, "No, I know God will punish whoever gets my money three times over." She said it in humor, but her basic concept about God is right. We pay for our wrongdoing. Some believe that you pay seven times over. Of course, there is really no way to measure the distress and trouble we receive because of our wrong. It is as immeasurable as the power of God.

The difficulty with disobedience is that God punishes us in the present. If we refuse to allow God's discipline to persuade us to repent we will store up God's wrath against us for his righteous judgment in that final day. 

Why is this punishment brought upon the disobedient? Simply because they know better! The Gentiles knew God through nature and deliberately denied him. The Jews had special advantage in that they had special revelation from God and lived no different. Both refused to obey God's law written on their hearts.

A few years ago a man drowned off Clearwater beach. The tide was going out and the current was strong where the water was rushing out of the narrow passages of the intercostal water way. He got caught up in the current and was actually pulled away from shore. He began trying to swim against the tide to get back to shore. He soon became tired and drowned. Experts said that he should have relaxed and floated out with the tide and waited to be rescued. 

The sovereignty of God is moving this world toward a final destination.If we refuse to go with him it is like swimming against the current. The power of the God, which is intended to save us, will drown us. The world may persuade you to think that swimming against the current is the way to live but you will drown. The world may even make it look like the easiest way to live. But it will leave us powerless to salvage our lives. We may stay afloat, but we will lose ground fast. We may even invent ingenious ways to stay afloat, but God's grace is our only hope. We may even try to convince ourselves we are going in the right way. He can rescue us.

Notice the warnings against harmful desires that plunge us to destruction in the following verses.

1 Timothy 6:8-10

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (NIV)

Experiencing the Power of God’s Grace

I'm speaking about bad news. This part of what we are talking about this morning is not the most popular aspect of God's grace today. I thought I would tell you the bad news first. Could a God full of grace allow us to run headlong into destructive living without making an effort to discipline us for the purpose of salvaging our lives. Would he not prolong humanity's suffering by not allowing us to reap what we sow?

I have saved the good news to last because I want to impress upon you with the availability of God's power to salvage lives. What do we do when we reach a point in life where we know we do not have the power to make it on our own? How about discovering God's power for living?

When the reigns of leadership fell to Joshua after the death of Moses, Joshua was faced with the responsibility of leading the children of Israel across Jordan to the promise land. Forty years in the wilderness of S-I-N had taken its toll. The Sinai dessert may have been harsh, but at least it seemed familiar and safe. So God out of the riches of his kindness reassured Joshua by telling him "No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 'Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. . . Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.'" (Joshua 1:5-7a, 9 NIV)

Amazingly, God's kindness, tolerance and patience had sustained them for forty years as he disciplined and punished them for their sin. Now God's power is ready to lead them into the promise land. The richness of kindness of his power was astonishing.

The nature of God's power makes it attractive.

Romans 2:4-6

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God "will give to each person according to what he has done." (NIV)

When we stubbornly refuse to repent of our hypocrisy we show contempt for the riches of God’s grace. God’s kindness, tolerance and patience had been spurned. Those were the very things that should have led them to repent.

The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. Although contempt was shown for his grace, we should realize how God wishes to exert his power in our lives.

God exerts his power through the riches of his kindness. (2:4) The kindness of God's power is designed to lead us to repentance. But God's kindness cannot be held in contempt.

My four-year-old grandson, Dakota, was helping me move my office a few days ago. He climbed upon the U-haul and ask, “Papaw can I help you?” I said, “Of course!” I handed him my smallest inkjet printer. He was all smiles. I placed it in hands carefully --- with some doubt whether I should. He proceeded to go down the ramp and tripped and fell. My printer hit the ground and just fell apart. The housing around the printer ended up in several pieces. Dakota got up with a fearful look in his eyes and began to cry. I could tell he was afraid I would be mad. So I brushed him off and told him it was okay. I assured him that I could put it back together. 

I knew I had trusted him with something I had no business trusting a four-year-old with, but I thought it would be okay, especially since I had let him put it on the truck earlier. I knew he really wanted to help, so I entrusted him with something important. If he had gone to back of the truck and thrown it off, well that would be a different story. That would have been contempt for my kindness. Who wants to tolerate another’s contempt? But he was struggling to live up to his responsibility. What more could you ask? (A few days later I did put the printer back together, and surprisingly it works, although the power source plug is not was originally.)

God's exerts his power in tolerance. But God will not tolerate our indulgence with sin. Job says, "Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways, and those with clean hands will grow stronger. (Job 17:9 NIV) It is obvious, holding to God's ways is a condition to growing stronger in him.

The reason why God is showing us the qualities of his grace, and not judging us immediately, is not because he approves of our sin. It is because he understands the nature of our struggles. If there were no struggle, there would not be any need for patience or tolerance. 

God's power is exerted through his patience. God is patience in dealing with our weakness, but he will not tolerate hypocrisy. Jeremiah lived in difficult times when he wrote, "The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD." (Lamentations 3:25-26 NIV) 

Hebrews 6:11-12

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (NIV)

The kindness, tolerance and patience of God's power are designed to lead us to repentance. It is encouraging when we understand God knows our deepest darkest secrets (2:16), and is willing to save us through the riches of kindness.

Romans 2:6-7

God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.


Hebrews 7:25

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (NIV)

Isaiah 3:10

Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.



The power of God is not a quick fix or easy solutions for all the world's problems or even for all the church's problems, not even for all of my problems. It is the deep, abiding, sustaining presence of God every step of the way. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) It is kind, tolerant and patient to struggling souls. 

For a person initially coming to Christ the future is strange territory. The past seems safer and it is known, but ahead of you is the unknown, unsafe and unfamiliar. It can be intimidating as we look into the unpredictable future. But the good news of the gospel is that we don't have to face the unfamiliar all alone. We face it in the power of God.

Two lifestyles are paralleled in Romans 2. One way may seem very unfamiliar as we think about living up to the standards we recognize as right. The other way may seem like the quick fix we have been looking for to solve all our problems. It says, just accept yourself as you are, but expect the world to live up to your standards of right. The quick fix has to do with the way we want others to live, while ignoring the way we live. One way will leave us abandoned by God. The other way promises us the presence and power of God. 

Justice - When you get what you deserve

Mercy - When you don't get what you deserve

Grace - When you get what you don't deserve 

God gives us what we don't deserve. It is a power to overcome the harshness of our own hypocrisy.

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