This is an exegetical sermon on Romans 2:1-11 titled, Seek Glory (Part I) and explains how wrath is a necessary element of God character and also looks at how that same wrath is for His glory. This sermon was originally preached by Pastor Duane Smets on Sunday, August 7th, 2005 in San Diego, CA. Audio unavailable.
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:: The Resolved ::
August 7, 2005
Duane Matthew Smets (elder)
“Seek Glory (Part 1)”
God of infinite magnitude. God of wrath and god of kindness. I ask that you would come, manifest yourself in a way that will enable us to understand your book, these words and that by them we might see and seek your glory. Grant minds a grace this evening to comprehend that which our sinful reasoning so quickly wants to dismiss. Would you enable me this evening to be that which you have called me to be, a workman who rightly divides your word of truth. I am a stubborn man, who has itching ears and can so easily be carried away by every wind of doctrine. Plant our feet, the resolved, tonight in the words of this passage and guard us from heresy that would warp the meaning of these words. Most of all, would your word do its work. May your kindness lead us to repentance, may our hard hearts be broken, may we seek glory and honor and immortality and eternal life and may we fear the hellish horror of seeing your eternal face of wrath. We tremble at the thought and ask for mercy. Amen
Tonight is a tough night. Not only is there a huge exegetical hurdle we must get over but then there is an indictment of this passage that stabs us in a place that causes a gut reaction of resistance and dislike. We cringe and rebut when we are told that we are unrepentant, hard-hearted, and heading toward hell. We do not like to be told that we are lazy and lethargic and may in fact be evidencing our commitment to a path that does not lead to eternal life because we do not actively seek the glory of god.
I come tonight as a man who has been beaten up. As Martin Luther said that he “beat importuntently upon Romans 1:17 most ardently desiring to know what Saint Paul wanted.” I too found myself in a similar plight this week with this text. Paul and I have been fighting and wrestling and he finally took me down. There was a point this last week when I would have been so happy to not have this passage in the Bible, but rather than show itself to be a blot in the middle of this book, it has proven itself to be a most glorious passage of scripture. Over and over again, Paul has won my confidence and I pray that he might win yours too tonight.
There are three main parts to this text. Three sort of big issues here. Tonight we are going to spend our time on the first one and then next week we will deal with the other two.
1. The apparent theological difficulty
2. The reality of wrath
3. The satisfaction from seeking glory
The apparent theological difficulty
What I want to is set this text before you and show you why I had such a problem with it and how when dealt with on its own terms it truly stands up to the most rigorous scrutiny.
So let’s read the text again.
Here is what tormented me for the last two weeks. Four phrases that to me stuck out to me so much that when I would read this passage, every time they were all I would see:
“Will render to each person according to his works”
“Wrath….who does evil”
“Who does good…glory”
And the reason these four phrases were so frustrating is because it sounds like they are saying that we could earn salvation, righteousness, or justification from god based upon works and that is the very thing Paul is arguing throughout the whole book, that we can’t do.
Let’s read it again and in your head you tell me what it sounds like and take note to these phrases. It sounds in a cursory reading that Paul is in fact saying that Christianity is a works based religion like every other religion on the planet.
But here is the problem:
The thesis of the book:
Romans 1:17 “for in it the (the gospel) a righteousness of god is revealed from faith to faith as it is written the just will live by faith.” By faith not works.
Or even more pointed:
Romans 3:12 “all have turned aside; together they have become worthless, no one does good, not even one.” No one does good. But in our passage it sounds like Paul is saying the opposite.
There is more. Listen to these passages.
Romans 3:20 “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight”
Romans 3:28 “we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law”
Romans 4:2-5 “if justified by works one has something to boast about, but not before god, for what does scripture say ‘Abraham believed god and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith I counted as righteousness.”
All through Romans Paul argues and argues and argues. You cannot be justified by what you do. By no work could you ever earn favor with god. And not only in Romans but in all of Paul’s letters, throughout his whole life he lived and preached that the only way one could be justified, given a right standing with god, is through the free gift of god’s grace. Listen to his words in a couple other letters.
Ephesians 2:8-9 “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of god not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Titus 3:5 “he saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.”
So, it is clear that in Romans, and in all of Paul’s writings and really in the whole bible which we will not take time to do right now (Joe did a couple months back), Paul does not believe one can earn eternal life through any kind or any amount of works that one could or would ever do.
So we have a huge problem if our passage, 2:5-11 is saying that one can earn salvation through the good they do. Do you guys see the problem? This is huge. Because if it does, then we all might as well leave right now. Because Christianity is worthless and Christ died in vain. I’d much rather be a Buddhist if I got to try and earn salvation, at least then I get to make my own rules.
Can you feel the tension? The fight? I wondered if Paul just sort of had a brain lapse here??? Paul who is so meticulous, who we have seen over and over again form this tightly ordered argument in Romans appears to here to throw away all his logic.
This is where I began to beat the text. Martin Luther said that sometimes you must beat scripture with a stick over and over again until it gushes forth with water that floods your soul. So I want to invite you in the next 10 minutes or so to prepare you minds for action and to beat this text with me. May god help us in these next few minutes.
The reality of wrath
To begin with we must remember who wrote this book and why he wrote it. In your bulletin there are some basic things written in there about the book of Romans and those basic things will help us in this passage.
First, Romans is a book about god. About how he is glorious and in particular how he is glorious in how he saves unrighteous human beings.
Second, Romans is written by Paul. Paul, a Pharisee who from the day he was born was dedicated to following the law, doing everything in his human power to earn favor or salvation with god by following the law perfectly until one day Christ appears to him and Paul’s life is changed and his life becomes all about telling people that there is grace and salvation in Christ through faith.
Third, the thesis of Romans, Romans 1:16-17 “for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of god unto salvation for everyone who believes for the the Jew first and then the gentile. For in it the righteousness of god is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’”
Particularly vs. 16. If you remember back to when we studied it we saw that the reason that Paul was not ashamed of the gospel was because he believed it could in fact bring people to salvation, future. And how it does that is by bringing people to belief and then by keeping believers believing.
Fifth, our passage falls in the part of Romans that is written to tell us of our great need for salvation. If you look in the bulletin there is a brief outline. 1:1-17 is introduction, 1:18-3:20 = sinfulness of mankind. 3:21-5:21 = Christ is our justification. 6:1-8:39 = sanctification. 9:1-11:36 = sovereignty. 12:-end practical outworkings.
So those are the basics that will help us in this passage.
1. Romans is about god.
2. Romans is written by Paul whose former life was about earning favor and is now about how people might truly be saved.
3. Romans in large is written so that both so that people will begin believing and that believers will be convinced over and over again and might keep believing, showing their faith to be true.
4. 2:5-11 falls in the part of Romans which is intended to teach us that we need god.
Okay, so let’s go to our passage again. I’m going to read it this time but begin at verse 1 of chapter 2. I am tempted to read the whole chapter but we will just read from verse 1 to 11. About 75% of all apparent bible difficulties are made clear by the context and this passage is no different. The bible is like any other book that we read. Context matters. Context context context.
Notice verse 4. “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” So the whole of our passage falls under that heading. Verse 5 begins with “but” “but instead of being lead to repentance” here is what is happening…we are storing up wrath.
There are three words that are huge keys to understanding this passage. And repentance is the first.
Repentance. It is in verse 4 and in verse 5. In verse 5 ESV translates it as “impenitent.” It is the same word “un-metanoeo.”
Basic meaning is a change of mind and then lifestyle because of a sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes it well when it says…”godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation.”
So Paul’s charge, his heading over this passage is that the “Christian life” is to be one of repentance and if it is not we have a hard heart and are storing up wrath. Notice here that repentance is not a one time thing. Salvation is future and to get there we must acknowledge over and over again that we are messed up turn to god. That is what repentance is. Anytime we think that we have arrived, that is when hardness starts to crust up on our heart. God’s kindness is that he reveals our sin to us and then offers us grace in spite of it. You can’t get god’s kindness if you think you are good.
This description of our hearts is very telling. The word for “hard” heart is skletrotes. Where we get the word skeleton. Dry, hard, brittle, unyielding. And this is what everything flows out of. Jesus said that out of the mouth the heart speaks and this passage is no different. Out of the heart we act and because of how we act we reflect a disposition of our heart that is storing up wrath.
Okay, so all that is sort of set-up to answer the question of whether or not Paul is teaching justification by works here. But let’s remember those last two things: what Paul is calling for is a life of repentance and for a soft heart and that all of verses 6-11 are how god responds depending on whether or not we have a soft repentant heart or a hard unrepentant heart.
Read verses 6-11. God renders according to works. To render is to give what is due. Not let us look and see what kind of works, two classes “good” and “evil”, that he is talking about:
Seeking glory, honor, immortality
Seeking self, untruth, unrighteousness
The bible is a beautiful book, because just when you expect it to say one thing it says another. What I mean is that these “works” really are not works at all. Seeking glory, seeking self. Those are not works but attitudes. This word “seeking” is the second most important word to recognize in this passage. Because the works it has in mind are not grounds for merit. They are not things one could point to as ends or accomplishments that eternal life may be granted because of. No, they are means. They are petitions or pathways, they are seekings.
But for arguments sake let us consider the opposite. Paul is a Jew. Been one his whole life and knows works better than anyone. If you want a religion that tries to earn favor with god through works than orthodox Judaism is the chief religion. Follow law to a t. So let’s consider this perspective because Paul has some very interesting things to say.
Look back up to vs.5 “storing up.” A popular Hebrew Jewish saying was that in their deeds, sacrifices, following the law etc. They were “…storing up good deeds for the day of god’s wrath when god would judge the world and vindicate Israel.”
What Paul does is turn this on its head and says that if you store works you are storing up wrath.
So when Paul says, “to those who in 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.” What he has in mind is as Leon Morris says, that “the reward of eternal life is promised to those who do not regard their good work as an end in themselves, but see them as marks not of human achievement but of hope in god. Their trust is not in their good works, but in god, the only source of glory, honor, and incorruption. He is certainly not speaking of works so as to acquire merit. He is speaking of attitude, the attitude of those who seek certain qualities.”
Or as John Calvin said concerning this passage, “there is not so much difficulty in this verse as commonly thought…he sanctifies those whom he has previously resolved to glorify (and) will also crown their good works, but not on account of merity…(for) it is an absurd inference to deduce merit from reward.”
So what we have so far is repentance and seeking. We have Paul calling for repentance, a soft-hearted acknowledgement of sinfulness and a continually turning to god – and – we have Paul calling for seeking, the kind of seeking that does works not as grounds for salvation but out of a longing for salvation.
This brings us to this last of the three important words that are keys to this passage, “according” we have repentance, seeking, and lastly “according.” It is in verse 6, “he will render to each one according to his works.” Notice it does not say because of. The word is not “because.” In Greek according is kata and because is oti. There is no oti here, it is kata, according. If there were a because, a oti then Paul would have himself in hot water because he would be placing word as ground for god’s rendering. But instead he says according to. So what does he have in mind? According to
This is what according means. There will be deeds in “accord with” repentance. And what is repentance but a sorrowful turning to god for faith.
Read verse 5-6 with me again. God is judge and there is one of two things he will see: 1. Earning works or 2. Evidencing works. He will either see you claiming righteousness on the basis of works, in which case he will respond with wrath. Or he will see you evidencing your faith his righteousness given as gift (Romans 1:17) through or according to your works.
Remember Paul is writing because he believes that the gospel is powerful unto salvation because it keeps believers believing. So what you have here is him crying out, if you believe, show that you do! Evidence it!
In the bible works are properly called by Jesus and by Paul in other places, as the “fruit of faith.”
Listen to Jesus in john 15:8 “my father is glorified (hear it, “seeking glory”)” “my father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” “That you bear much fruit, and so prove (evidence) to be my disciples.”
Or listen to Paul in another one of his letters which says almost the same thing. Galatians 6:8-9. Listen here of how Paul says eternal life comes to Christians. Galatians 6:8-9 “the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.”
So the question is what kind of fruit are we evidencing? What are we seeking? According to what does the judge of the universe see?
The satisfaction from seeking glory
We are going to conclude here in a couple minutes. Next week I will address this issue of god’s wrath and its alternative, eternal life. If god’s wrath does not seem fair to you or if it just does not sit well with you, then come and hear Paul out. These are weighty things. You may be sitting here and thinking that the whole idea is bogus. I read this week a letter to the editor of the San Diego reader and he said this
“Do you think that a loving god would create such a place or such an entity so that we could be tortured for eternity? Nonsense! Do you think that a loving god would even allow some evil entity to exist or allow such a place to be created?”
That may be true but if it is not you risk eternity. So come and hear Paul’s reasoning.
To conclude tonight I want to summarize what we have said so far and leave you with an exhortation. 2 timothy 2:16 says “all scripture is god breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness.” So here is what I believe this passage of scripture has taught us.
One, there is something about the human condition that naturally has a hard heart. Which leads us to seeking ourselves by doing evil and incurring wrath. Two, what we need is a soft repentful heart that seeks the glory of god and leads us to life everlasting. Three, god sees the evidence, fruit, or proof of whether we have a soft repentful heart that seeks his glory according to or by the kind of works or deeds our life consists of.
That is the summary. Here is the exhortation:
People the resolved…do not be so naïve to think that your heart is soft. Instead acknowledge your hardness and repent. As Christ himself said, repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. When Christ returns and ushers in his kingdom there will be wrath and fury. Fear for your souls. Friends, family do not assume that you have arrived, for your souls could very well hang over the pit of hell. Instead seek and do not seek your self but seek glory and honor and immortality. Seek that delight which can only satisfy all your longings. Seek it. Sow not to the flesh but long for god’s glory. In repentance and in repentance and in repentance turn to god. Have him as your all. Do not turn away from god’s kindness, but seize all means he makes available to know him. Trust not in the merit of your works but live your life as a display of his magnificent workings. Cherish all that he is for it is your only hope.
Let us pray.
You are an infinitely wonderful and scary being. And despite our disposition you offer such kindness. We bow before your throne in humility and petition your grace. According to your word oh god lead us not unto the day of wrath but into peace. God our passions are so fleeting. Your glory and honor are not the sweetness my soul longs for often. I am hard, a dead skeleton. Breathe life in my being. Soften us oh god. Take out our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. And lead us in the way of everlasting.