Do people sometimes regard doctrine as splitting insignificant theological hairs and being irrelevant? While humanity has indeed invented some hair splitting antics, biblical teaching is anything but trivial or irrelevant.
What Paul wrote about God’s judgment reveals volumes about the state of humanity’s nature. Does this have practical ramifications? You betcha.
In Romans 2 Paul’s description of God’s righteous final judgment provided a stepping stone toward his larger message regarding the righteousness of God. Before tracing his thinking, consider the principle God will use for judging. It could not be more fair.
“He will reward each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by persevering in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness” (Romans 2:6-8).
What could be more fair than doling out what we deserve? Furthermore, God will not show partiality to anybody (Romans 2:11). God’s judgment is just.
Unfortunately for us, such justness is dire news. None of us can survive such an equitable judgement. As Paul would affirm later, humanity shares a universal problem. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
However, our fate is not sealed. Good news spills forth in that God has offered to rescue us from our hopeless situation through Christ’s redeeming death – and don’t miss the big finish – God does this without corrupting his righteous nature (Romans. 3:24-26).
While this traces the flow of Paul’s message culminating in the good news of the gospel, today my focus is upon how Paul builds his argument that all have sinned, whether Jew or Gentile.
As for those who had access to God’s Law, God’s written standard provides the basis for judgment. Thus it is fair that whoever among them might fail to measure up will be condemned by the Law (Romans 2:12-13).
Theoretically, someone could be condemned or exonerated. However, in reality no one under the Law will be justified because all of them transgressed it (Romans 3:20). To prove this, Paul quoted the Old Testament, whose message was directed at Israel, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10-19).
However, what about those who did not have access to God’s Law? How can God righteously judge those who did not know?
The answer is, God judges them by their innate grasp of right and wrong (Romans 2:14-16). God’s judgment remains just. He judges them by the standard they possessed.
Thus whoever fails to measure up will be condemned (Romans 2:12,15). Theoretically then, the conscience of “the Indian in the jungle” could either defend them or accuse them (Romans 2:15-16).
It is precisely at this point, where Paul affirms that it is at least theoretically possible for the Jew or Gentile to receive glory and honor in God’s judgment that either God’s righteous judgment becomes a farce, Paul’s argument falls apart, or original sin is exposed as false.
Here is why original sin cannot coexist with the other two ideas. If people are sinful because of Adam, then for God to be just he must condemn everyone even if they could live perfectly either under the Law or by their conscience. Failure to condemn would corrupt God’s righteousness since they carry Adam’s sin.
On the other hand, if God remains righteous by condemning everyone based upon them possessing Adam’s sin even though someone might have persevered in good works seeking glory and honor, then Paul’s statement claiming that God “will reward each one according to his works” collapses into meaninglessness.
These three ideas cannot be true simultaneously: God righteously judges, Paul’s description of God’s judgment is accurate and people inherit Adam’s sin.
Well, God will righteously judge. Paul’s inspired description of the judgment is accurate. It is well known that Augustine’s impetus for the idea of original sin arose from a Latin mistranslation of Romans 5:12. Is there any doubt which idea should be rejected?
Is biblical teaching significant? When we hold a newborn in our arms, we are not looking into the face of a condemned baby under God’s wrath. Rather, even after Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, we see a beautiful gift in our arms, a child whom God would describe as having been made in his image (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).