Her mother began backing out of the space in the grocery store parking lot. In the back seat, a little girl is strapped in, arms folded, with a snotty look on her face. “That’s not fair,” she cries.
Her mother refused to buy her candy. Especially after how she behaved in the grocery store. The little girl argued with her mother multiple times and almost caused a scene in the cereal aisle. As her mother pulled out onto the main road, the little girl said it again, “that’s not fair!” Having previously ignored her, now her mother pulls over on the side of the road. Putting on her emergency lights, she gets out of the car, walks around the car to the back seat, and opens the door. She asks, “so, you want what’s fair?”
“Yes,” she said in a spoiled voice.
Calmly, her mother proceeded to unbuckle her daughter, flipped her over on her belly, and with cars whizzing by gave her bottom a… Wack! Wack! Wack!
Her daughter is stunned. And now, with tears in her eyes, asks her, “mommy, why did you do that?”
Her mom replies, “you said that you wanted what was fair.”
The little girls mother had given her daughter many chances. From not listening to her directions in the store, arguing with her mother, being ungrateful, and pestering her mother, she deserved worse than a spanking. Throughout the little girls experience at the grocery store, the little girl was given mercy. She didn’t get what she did deserve. A spanking. But now, her mother had given her a taste of what was fair.
Romans 2:6-11 says, “He (God) 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. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”
For the modern American Christian, this passage can become confusing. One reads this and thinks, “but I thought we are saved by grace? Isn’t this saying we are saved by works?”
When we understand what Paul is seeking to accomplish and when we set aside our five point gospel for a moment, it’s quite easy to understand. In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul is intentionally showing us that we all are under God’s wrath because of our sin. In this passage, he is doing this by taking the focus off of us and putting it on God. He is showing us God’s Justice system. That God is a fair and impartial Judge. He gives unto all, what all deserve.
God did offer a means of salvation by the works of the law. Hold on. Follow me. Listen to what God told Israel, “And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us” (Deut.6:25). The problem is, we all break God’s law. And the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1Cor.6:9).
Righteousness is what God requires. And according to James 2:10, if we break even one of God’s laws, then we are guilty of breaking all of them. As Adam’s one sin brought death to the world, so also, one sin is deserving of death in our world. One sin deserves God’s wrath.
And so, before anyone can truly get saved by grace, they must understand why they need this grace. This is why Paul shows us the perfect Justice of God. We must understand that God is Just: He will reward good deeds, yes, but He will also punish bad ones. And the very thought of standing before a Just and Holy God, in sinful shoes, should cause us to tremble. For all have sinned.
But, can we not bank on God being merciful, that He will forgive us? That depends on what you mean. To help answer that question, listen to what Paul says earlier in Romans 2:4-5: “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? 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.”
A young man regularly visits his local corner store. Most days, he walks into the store, puts his favorite candy bar in his pocket, and buys a ten cent piece of gum. He’s stealing. What he doesn’t know, is that the store owner knows that he’s stealing. He has a camera hidden in the candy aisle. But instead of confronting him, he tries telling the boy about the benefits of honesty, the rewards of truthfulness, and the payoff of hard work. One day, he even tells the boy about his nephew who ended up in the juvenile. But the kid never gets it.
The owner had enough. And this day, when the boy put the candy bar in his pocket, he confronted him, “son, put the candy bar back!”
“What candy car?” The boy responded.
And that was his last chance. The owner took him by the arm, put him in the back room and locked the door. He called the police. When the police showed up they searched the boy. And sure enough, there was the candy bar.
Most of the time it would be a slap on the wrist. But not this time. The owner had recorded and kept records of each time the boy stole. And when you added it all together it was a fairly serious offense. In the end, the boy did a year in Juvy.
“That’s not fair,” the boy said every day of his incarceration. And then, one day, the owner came to visit him.
“Why did you put me in jail?” the boy asked. “It was just a candy bar! This isn’t fair!”
“But it wasn’t just a candy bar,” the man replied. “It was 200 candy bars, 12 sets of batteries, and more. I figure, at .75 cents a bar, $5 a pack of batteries, and another $50 from the other things you took, it was $260. That’s like stealing a computer. I showed you mercy every day. That day, I chose to show you justice. And you got what you deserved.
For us too, it is easy to adapt God’s Justice and Mercy to our liking. We think… God is merciful, He’ll forgive me. No, He won’t. Not in the way you’re claiming.
This is how God has shown us mercy…
1. He withholds immediate death and destruction, though it is what our sin deserves (Gen.2:16-17, 3:21-24)
2. He sends rain and provides for all men and women, whether good or bad (Ps.145:9; Matt.5:45)
3. He is patient towards all, giving us time to repent and believe the gospel (2 Pet.3:9; Rom.11:32)
4. He sent His Son to bear the punishment for our sin (Eph.2:5; John 2:2; Tit.3:5)
God doesn’t just forget our sin in the way that most think. As a Holy and Just God, He deals with our sin by punishing it. And upon punishing it, He can then put it behind Him and choose to remember it no more.
So yes, God does choose to, as we say, forget our sin –even though He can’t really forget anything. But He does so only through the cross. On the cross, Jesus appeased God’s Just wrath against our sin. The Shepard died for His sheep to save us from the wrath to come.
God gave us His holy law. Yet we continually break God’s law. We think about “me” before we think about God. We worship the latest hip-hop artist. We sleep-in on Sunday. We say OMG without any respect to the God who is in the OMG. We’re unfaithful. Rebellious to authority. We lie to our mom, dad, teacher, grandmother, friend and even ourselves. We take things without first asking others. We tell those we’re angry with that we hate them. And we’re never content, always wanting more. We spend our life, continually rebelling against God’s holy law without a second thought. He gives us mercy upon mercy. Time to turn and repent. He compels us to come to Him. And we continue in sin.
But this makes sense…
What does a basketball player do? He plays basketball.
What does a skier do? She skies.
What does a builder do? He builds.
What does an accountant do? She counts.
Guess what a sinner does? They sin.
And this is why God created hell. First for the devil and his Angels, and for every man and women who joins in his rebellion by committing sin. And guess what? That’s all of us. “All have sinned” (Rom.3:23).
One day we will stand before God. And this God will give a fair consequence for breaking His law. Not a spanking and not a year in Juvy. We will get His wrath. And it will be in the form of a lake of fire that burns forever and ever and ever, with no escape. An eternal death sentence.
Jesus said this, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Lk.12:5).
So let’s not play with God. And let’s not meddle with this silly idea that God just winks at our sin. No. God is Just. And our sin deserves His wrath in hell.
But we see the cross; we see a place where the justice and mercy of God meet. On the cross, we see God’s opinion of sin: a brutal, bloody, gory, death. This is what sin deserves. Even one sin. However, on the cross we see God’s mercy: a way for sin to be justly dealt with, not glanced over; and thus, a way for sinners to be made right with a holy God.
Don’t scoff at God’s Justice or try to reinvent God to your liking. There is a day of judgment. And sinners who haven’t been made right with God will perish.
Don’t receive God’s mercy lightly. We deserve death. In His mercy, God gives us time to repent and trust in Jesus for our salvation.
Don’t just glance at the cross: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb.10:29)
Jesus isn’t to be toyed with. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. And as a man, He bore the full weight of God’s wrath against the sins of His people. He doesn’t offer to just guide you, or console you, or make you happy; He desires to save you.
Saved from what? Sin, yes. Death, yes. But must of all, He can save us from the wrath of God.
Romans 2:16, warns us of a day of Judgement: “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
On that day, He’ll judge us according to three criteria…
1. Our words (Matt.12:37)
2. Our works (Rom.2:6)
3. Our motives (Rom.2:16)
He’ll judge the secrets of men’s hearts. You won’t be able to hide anything from God. He has perfect knowledge; He has a standard of perfect truth, and He has a perfect character with which He can rightly, fairly and truthfully Judge. On that day, you don’t want what is fair. You want mercy. And the only place where so great a mercy is offered is the cross of Jesus Christ.