Is God Fair?
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 2:12–16
(Read vv. 1–16) I want to begin by telling a story about a teenager I had in youth group. He was a great kid who came from a great family. He was kind and compassionate. He knew how to have a good time, but he also knew when to be serious. Most importantly, he really seemed to have a heart for the Lord.
As a result, he was burdened to see his grandfather come to Christ. He and his family had shared the gospel with him many times, and they prayed constantly for his salvation. But sadly, his grandfather became very sick, and he was clearly dying. This teen prayed hard, but his grandfather passed away and to the family’s knowledge he never trusted Christ as Savior.
This teen was absolutely crushed, and he began asking some really hard questions. “Why didn’t God answer my prayers?” “My grandfather was such a good person. How could God condemn him to hell?” “Is God really good?” “Is God fair?” Those are hard questions, aren’t they? Especially in such an emotionally charged situation.
Sadly, they drove this teenager away from Christ for several years, though he got saved and was baptized earlier this year. But the questions he asked are common among believers and unbelievers alike often ask, and they are hard questions to answer.
Thankfully, our text for today was written to answer one of these important questions. Will God’s judgment be fair? So, this is a valuable text if you have questions about God’s justice. It can also be a valuable tool when someone else asks you that question whether it’s your child, an evangelistic contact, or a hurting believer.
This text also raises some interesting issues surrounding man’s conscience and what the natural man does and does not understand about morality. So, we have a few important and practical matters to discuss this morning. I’d like to build our study around two big questions Paul will answer. First…
I. How will God judge mankind (vv. 12–13)?
Last week we saw that vv. 1–11 first raised this issue of how God will judge. Paul confronted two false assumptions by many Jews of his day. The first false assumption was that many Jews would be justified by obeying the law. Paul countered that the Jews committed the same sins as the Gentiles. They looked more spiritual, but they are still sinners.
The second false assumption, which is especially important for today’s text, is that God will favor the Jews and not judge the Jews as harshly as the Gentiles. They believed that simply being a Jew would get them into heaven as long as they weren’t too bad. They thought they would be judged by a lesser standard.
But Paul asserts that God will judge all people fairly (vv. 6, 11). Verse 11 is especially clear, and the main purpose of vv. 12–16 is to develop the fact that “There is no partiality with God.” Paul begins to build his case in v. 12 by asserting that God will judge all people…
Based on the Revelation Each Person Has Received (v. 12): This is a really practical point because one of the most common objections to Christianity is, “How could God condemn people who have never heard gospel or have had hardly any opportunity to respond? It’s not fair that God would judge them the same way he judges someone who has heard the gospel his whole life.”
Well, v. 12 says that he won’t; instead, all people will be judged based on the revelation they have received (read). It must be said, that “the Law” in v. 12 is specifically the Law of Moses. Therefore, Paul is specifically saying that at the final judgment, the Jews will be judged by the standard of the Mosaic Law. God will judge them based on how they responded to the revelation they had about God and about his will. Did they believe and obey it, or did they reject it?
But people with little to no access to Scripture will not be held to the same standard. Instead, God will judge them by the revelation they had received. We saw in Romans 1 that at the bare minimum, they know basic truth about God from creation, and we’ll see later this morning that God has revealed something of his will to them through conscience.
Of course, many people today fall somewhere between the unreached pagan and the biblically literate Jew. Some grew up hearing Bible stories, or they’ve heard the gospel once or twice. Others know the Bible inside and out. Regardless, no one will be held accountable for knowledge they couldn’t access. They will be judged by what they received, and they will be sentenced accordingly.
I should mention though that Paul assumes this judgment will always end in condemnation. He says, “all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law.” He doesn’t say that some will be let off the hook. The assumption is that they will “perish” unless they hear and respond to the gospel.
However, God’s judgment will be fair, and it will include different levels of punishment. Jesus said, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you” (Matt 11:21–22).
The Bible never gets more specific than this, so it’s pointless to speculate about what exactly will vary. Of course, hell is hell no matter what part you are in, but some will suffer more than others. And, what really matters is that whatever they suffer will be perfectly just.
Our God is not some free-wheeling despot who judges and blesses on a whim. He never judges more strictly than people deserve though he often shows more mercy than we deserve. Any accusation that God is not fair is simply not true, and for any man to claim that he has a better idea of justice than God, is simply arrogant and naïve.
So, if anyone ever asks you about the justice of God’s condemnation, take them to Romans 2:12. God assures us that his judgment will be just.
But this verse should also be sobering verse for any unbeliever in this room. You’ve probably greater access to the gospel than most people. It’s a tremendous privilege, but it also brings great responsibility. You will be judged the revelation you have received including what I am saying in this sermon. Please do not reject it; respond in faith so that you will be in heaven someday. In sum, v. 12 teaches that God will judge based on the revelation each person has received. Then v. 13 adds…
Based on the Response to That Revelation (v. 13): Verse 13a probably sounds obvious to most of us. “Of course, simply hearing the law doesn’t bring justification.” But we must remember that many Jews believed this. They believed that “hearing,” or more specifically, possessing the Law would gain the Jews a favored standing at the final judgment.
Yes, God had clearly favored them in this life with many blessings, but there will be no favorites at the judgment. Just possessing the Law will not get anyone into heaven. And as I emphasized last week, the same goes for anything else we think will gain us favoritism. God won’t let you into heaven because you are a good Baptist, Presbyterian or Catholic. God won’t favor you because of your family, your nationality, or your social status.
Instead, v. 13 asserts, “the doers of the Law will be justified.” Like I said last week, we must understand this statement in the context of Romans. And Romans 3–4 are adamant that no one will be justified (i.e., declared righteous and welcomed into heaven) by their works (3:28). The only hope anyone has of entering heaven is to come on the basis of Christ’s finished work which is applied by faith.
But an important aspect of our union with Christ is that we will live a transformed life. Romans 6:4 calls it “newness of life.” By God’s power, the Christian can obey the Law in a way no unbeliever could. As such, 2:13 accurately describes those in Christ as “doers of the Law.”
Paul says these people “will be justified.” They will pass God’s judgment and be welcomed into God’s presence forever and ever. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). All our labor to pursue godliness will be more than worth it.
But again, merely being around God’s truth is not a harbinger of favoritism at the final judgment. Just having the law and hearing the law, will not get a single Jew into heaven. Neither will sitting in this church every Sunday and hearing me or someone else preach get you into heaven.
Just because your picture is in our directory, your parents are members of Life Point, or you are a member of Life Point, does not guarantee salvation. We may misjudge you, but Jesus will not.
And I want to reiterate the point I made last week that the fact that you’ve lived a comfortable life doesn’t mean God is pleased with you. Jesus said, “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem (Jesus is asking if the tragic deaths of these people reflected God’s disapproval and if the security of those in Jerusalem proved God’s favor)?I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4–5).
The only issue that will matter is if you are in Christ by faith and if you have lived a life that reflects genuine conversion. You must respond to the gospel you are hearing this morning with faith and repentance. So, do not be content merely hoping that these other things will get you some favoritism. Please, be saved today so that you can face the final judgment with absolute security and confidence because you are safe in Christ.
In sum, vv. 12–13 explain how God will judge. He will judge fairly in keeping with genuine fruits of salvation. I’d like to frame v. 14–16 with a 2nd question…
II. Are you sure God doesn’t privilege some (vv. 14–16)?
There’s a lot to digest in these verses, and some of it is fascinating, but it’s important that we keep in mind Paul’s primary concern. Again, many Jews of Paul’s day were banking on the hope that being a Jew and having God’s Law practically guaranteed them a place in heaven. They thought they had a major advantage over all the other peoples.
But Paul counters in vv. 14–15 that the Law is not as big of an advantage as the Jews may think because God has given all people some access to his Law.
It’s important at this point to distinguish the Law of Moses from God’s timeless moral standard. The Law of Moses was Israel’s constitution. It was in effect from Mt. Sinai until Pentecost. It is no longer binding. However, God’s holiness and his moral will never changes.
It’s also important that we distinguish special revelation from general revelation. Special revelation is God’s direct communication and especially Scripture. It’s special because it’s only available to those to whom God speaks (e.g., prophet, apostle) or who hear what they received. Today, special revelation is only available in the Bible. If you don’t have a Bible, you don’t have special revelation.
But general revelation, is available generally or to all people. We saw in Romans 1 that God has revealed himself to all people in creation, and these two verses say that he has also revealed himself in conscience. So, not everyone has the Law of Moses or today the Law of Christ as revealed in the NT. But everyone has access to creation and conscience. Therefore, Paul asserts that…
God has revealed parts of his will to all people (v. 14). The evidence is all around us. There’s no denying the fact that we are inherently moral beings. This aspect of God’s image probably sets us apart more clearly from the animal world than anything else.
We alone distinguish right from wrong and make moral judgments. Animals don’t do that, and they don’t experience guilt and shame as we do either. If you doubt that, watch a dog or cat play with its prey sometime. They don’t care how it suffers, and they have no concept of cruelty.
But we do. If a person does to another person what our cats do to a rat, he’s a psychopath. The medical world would say his mind is malfunctioning. We could give loads of other examples. There’s no debate that people are uniquely moral creatures.
If you want to see a naturalist squirm, ask them to explain where our morality came from. I did some reading on the subject a few years ago, and they have no good answers. By far the simplest explanation of morality is that a moral God stands over creation and has written his morality onto the hearts of all people.
As such, v. 15 says, “They show the work of the Law written in their hearts.” As much people try to run from it, they know what God’s Law is. And beyond that, they can’t escape the fact that they will be judged by it. Therefore, v. 15 continues, “Their conscience bearing…”
Again, it’s fascinating and yet sad to watch the conflict. The naturalist wants to believe that there is no ultimate standard of morality. But he really wants everyone else to follow his morality. And no matter how hard he tries, he can’t fully escape the conviction of his own conscience and the accusations of his own thoughts. Why is that? It’s part of the image of the God he tries to deny but can’t escape.
In sum, Paul’s point in these two verses is to say that God has revealed his will to all people. Yes, conscience is never a perfect or complete guide. 1 Corinthians 8:7 says your conscience can be weak, and 1 Timothy 4:2 states that continual rebellion will “sear” a person’s conscience.
The influences you allow, the thoughts you ponder, and the choices you make all can dramatically shape your conscience for good or for bad. Therefore, no man’s conscience is infallible.
Neither is it complete. Yes, our conscience gives all people a certain level of intuitive ethics, but it will never arrive at the detail of God’s will that’s laid out in Scripture.
Therefore, it’s not a problem to use reason and evidence to show people the validity of the biblical ethic, but we shouldn’t be ashamed to declare that the Bible determines what is right and wrong and to say that all people should obey the Bible or that the laws of our country should reflect it.
But all that said, the main point of our text is once again that God has revealed his will to all people. Therefore, v. 16 adds that…
God will judge all people by the Law they have received (v. 16). This verse transitions from the judgment of conscience to the judgment of God at the last day.
I want to park for a moment on the phrase “according to my gospel.” Paul has already said that people will be judged the law they have received. Therefore, he’s not saying here that people with no access to the gospel will be judged by the gospel but that the gospel declares that judgment is coming.
It’s a fascinating note because most people would not include “coming judgment” as an essential truth of the gospel that we must proclaim. But Paul says that warning about coming judgment is a key piece to presenting the gospel. People need to know that Jesus is coming to judge so make sure that you frame evangelistic conversations with this fact.
That said, the day is coming when all people will take their stand before the Lord. The Apostle John describes his vision of that day when he says, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev 20:12).
Just like our text, John emphasizes the fact that God will judge “according to their deeds.” He will do so based on books full of detailed records. Combing the two passages, we can conclude that God will weigh in one hand the revelation each person has received and in the other their obedience to that revelation.
And Romans is clear that no one will pass the test (3:23). While people sometimes “do instinctively the things of the Law,” they fail more than they succeed. Therefore, 3:19b says the end result is “that every mouth…”
There won’t be anything unfair about it. The simple fact is that sinners will always reject whatever Law God gives them, and they will meet the standard they have received. It will be a fair judgment followed by a fair consequence. This brings me back to Paul’s primary point, which is…
God will not show favoritism. The Jews won’t get a pass because their Jews. There’s no Baptist, Catholic, or Presbyterian heaven pass. There’s not an American patriot pass, a family heritage pass, or anything other pass. All people will be judged justly.
But if this is so, how can anyone hope to escape that day? Romans 3:21–31 will answer that our only hope is that God will judge us in Christ and that we will be judged by his perfect righteousness, not our sin. If God judges by my righteousness, I’m doomed; if he judges me in Christ, I am safe.
And 3:22 says this righteousness can be yours “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Simply receive Christ as your Savior. You’ll be united with him, and you will forever be safe from the judgment of God. Please do not leave without knowing you are ready to stand before the Lord. If you have never done so, please receive Christ today.
For those of us who are saved I hope this passage will better equip us to share the gospel. They know they are accountable to God, and they know they fall short. So, appeal to their conscience and lovingly warn them that they will be judged by the Law they have received. Then point them to the only hope of salvation which is Christ and Christ alone.
Let’s be bold with this message this week. We’re not peddling snake oil which nobody needs and is ultimately useless. No, people need to be saved, the gospel is true and perfectly consistent, and it is powerful to save. So, be bold for your Savior, and love the sinner enough to share this glorious truth.