What is made evident by observing the way people organize themselves is that nations are inclined to gather together under a common rule by what is said to be “good” and oppose that which is considered to be “bad.” All groups of people, ancient or modern, sort out core values, an ethical system, by which moral distinctions are made. While some may be ignorant of the content of Scripture and the teachings of Christ, they are by no means deprived of any knowledge of what is right and wrong. By the awareness of having done something good, men uphold and comfort themselves; they congratulate each other on their moral achievements. Some actions are defended in their conscience as things that are rightly done and should be continued; yet there are other actions which accuse and reprove their vices. We should never disregard this process as though moral principles had evolved in man over long periods of time. Thus far no one has ever proven that there was any moment in man’s history when the practice of defining virtue against vice did not exist. In the end, the distinction of “right” and “wrong” will be the basis for a man’s eternal damnation. Consequently, there is a critical need to proclaim the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ to all men everywhere so that they might be saved from their self inflicted judgments.
In the opening chapters of Romans Paul establishes the central point of the book: all men are sinners and are under the judgment of God (Rom. 3:9-4:23). The entire world is therefore condemned to suffer the wrath of God. Only by turning to the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior can it be reconciled to God. In Romans chapter two, the book contains a development of at least five specific principles of justice by which unredeemed men are to be judged by Him on the last day (v. 16). First, the man who condemns in others what he himself does, in so doing condemns himself. He who scrutinizes the lives of his fellow man will be judged most severely by way of his own testimony (v. 1). The mistake of condemning others though guilty of precisely the same crime is committed by all. Without the forgiveness of this sin through the shed blood of Christ, we all stand condemned on this particular argument alone. He is willing to pay this penalty for us.
Second, God’s judgments are according to the facts of the specific situation. Only God the Creator truly knows the heart of man and therefore only He can judge his motives rightly (v. 2). And here again is another mistake that everyone makes. When they see how other sinners are punished, they are glad and say, “That’s good! That evildoer deserves this punishment.” Every time we gladden our hearts over the punishment of others and yet do similar things, we by this means condemn ourselves.
Third, the special goodness of God that is manifested toward any individual or group of people forms no ground of exemption from punishment. God shows us kindness in order to lead us to repentance, not in order that we might sin even more. No one should think he has escaped God’s judgment just because the Lord has for the short term allowed him to go on sinning. It is a tremendous error to believe that purely because God does not punish a sinful man immediately He does not care about the sinner’s affairs or that He has overlooked the man’s sins. Indeed, the fact that some men persist in their sins despite being shown excessive mercy and extended patience justifies an even greater punishment (vv. 3-5). To their own harm, men abuse the very mercies God bestows on them. From these verses we learn what a hardened heart really is, namely, a heart that scorns God’s goodness and patience. A man receives innumerable blessings from His Creator yet he commits countless sins and never thinks of mending his evil ways.
Fourth, the ground of judgment will be a man’s deeds, his works, the things he has specifically done (vv. 6-11; Rev. 20:11-15; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; John 5:28, 29). A man who was raised under Holy Scripture might say, “I know the Laws of God and I obey them.” The man who does not know the Scriptures might say, “I did not know God’s Law so I should be excused because of my ignorance.” Both premises are entirely wrong. In the latter instance Paul crushes the pride of the man who glories in the defense that he had not been given the opportunity to know what God expected of him. In this man’s estimation he does not deserve divine wrath and punishment. But men do not keep the limited laws they do have, even those laws they have invented for themselves. Though the Scriptures were not given to some men as a written document, God’s law of justice, love, mercy, and truthfulness is nonetheless alive in their hearts. Although there are many men throughout history who did not receive the explicit ordinances of God’s high and holy law, it was represented to a profound extent in their moral sensibilities. There is a spiritual law that is inscribed on the hearts of all men, believers as well as atheists, and this law obligates every person to obey it. Yet, man will by his very nature always go against this inner law. He would rather do the opposite of the law’s demands. Wherever there is a law of any sort, man is moved to go against it. The poet Ovid (b. 43 B.C.) pondered the dilemma too writing “… we always seek what is forbidden and stretch out our hands desiring what is denied us … whatever is allowed, we do not want, but that which is not permitted us, we burn all the more fiercely to possess it” (Amores, III, 4, 17, 18). It seems that anything man craves becomes more alluring if it is illegal. “Men love the darkness rather than the light,” said Jesus Christ our Lord (John 3:19).
Fifth, the standard of judgment is in accordance to the amount of truth which man has been given. By observation of the world around him, man ought to conclude that that there exists a powerful eternal God (Rom. 1). And from that revelation within, man should realize that he does not live up to the standards of God, nor does He even seek Him (Rom. 2). While the content of moral code will vary in different cultural situations, everyone has an inner compulsion that there is something to which he ought to adhere. The knowledge of God which all men have, if they do not suppress it, should bring them to the conclusion that they are guilty in relationship to their Creator. Those having a written law will be judged by it, and those who have only the law written on their hearts shall be judged by that inward law (vv. 12-15). According to Paul, these words pertain to the whole world, men, who, though leading a wicked life and not rightly worshiping his Creator nevertheless possesses the capability to perform this or that good work. For this reason it might properly be said that they do some of the things that God’s written law demands, or at least they understand something of it. Hence it can be said that they by nature do the things contained in God’s law. Men show that God’s law is written in their hearts by their conscience which bears witness to this fact. This witness is favorable when it concerns good deeds for in this situation their thoughts defend them. Conversely, it is also a reproving witness when they do evil works, for then their thoughts accuse them and their inner voice troubles them. All this proves that they know God’s law by nature. Simply stated even the remote tribesman who has never heard a single Bible verse in his life can by and large distinguish between good and evil. The pagan statesman Cicero (b. 106 B.C.) said, “The satisfaction which a person receives in a life well lived brings with it memories that are filled with joy” (Cato Maior, 3, 9). So, then, even this man who has never heard of Christ the King knows what he should do or also not do; in other words men know intuitively how they are to observe the law of God. It is within the bounds of their intellect to know so and they make moral distinctions against others proving it so.
How can The Condemned be saved from their impending doom? Only in Christ the Savior is a man freed from the liability of guilt, sin, and shame. Our right standing before our Judge is established on one thing only: the finished work of Christ crucified who shed His blood so we could live (John 19:30). We are released from our sins by His blood (Revelation 1:5). He has reconciled us in His earthly body through His death (Colossians 1:22). Jesus bore our sins in His own Body on the cross so that by His wounds we are healed (1 Peter 2:24). We are made holy through the offering up of Jesus’ Body as a sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 10:10). Christ appeared once for all to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26). God sent His Son to remove the wrath that we ourselves deserved (1 John 4:10). The penalty of sin that is rightly ours is absolved by grace through faith, not by any righteous deeds of our own (Ephesians 2:8-9). Christ’s final marching orders were that his followers preached this good news to sinners throughout the world and until the end of the world when He will return to judge the living and the dead (Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 4:1).
How will The Condemned hear this good news if you and I do not obey the Lord by preaching the Gospel?