Sermon Manuscript: Romans 2:6 (Part 6)
(This is a section of a manuscript of the first prepared sermon I ever preached, which was in 2009 at the Evangelical Church of Fairport.)
Romans 2:6, “He will render to each one according to his works…”
So can permanent, everlasting guilt be removed? The answer to this question is something into which angels long to look.
Some turn to the statements of the immediate context of our text for the answer, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” (Rom. 2:13) “Those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.’ (Rom. 2:7)
“They who pervert this passage for the purpose of building up justification by works, deserve most fully to be laughed at even by children.” –John Calvin, Commentary on Romans 2
Every philosophy of life, every worldview, no matter how mismatched and cobbled together or sophisticated and self-consistent, has a theory of salvation, which contains a doctrine of justification, a way that humanity can respond to the prescribed problems of the human condition, of dealing with guilt. The President tells us that we can be saved from the apocalyptic judgment of global warming by minimizing our carbon footprint and recycling (among other things). The Buddha told us that we can be freed from the wheel of reincarnation by attaining self-awakening through the Noble 8-Fold Path of having the right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration which lead to attaining right knowledge and right liberation. These different worldviews contain different doctrines of justification, different ways for dealing with human guilt and failure. Essentially, one answer offered is that we can make up for our guilt by believing and doing the right things. Justification = Faith + Works.
June 28, 2009 marks the completion of the Anno Paulino or the Pauline Year, which the Pope instituted in honor of the 2000th anniversary of the apostle’s birth. In the papal decree Urbis et Orbis it states: “The gift of Indulgences which the Roman Pontiff offers to the universal Church, truly smoothes the way to attaining a supreme degree of inner purification which, while honoring the Blessed Apostle Paul, exalts the supernatural life in the hearts of the faithful and gently encourages them to do good deeds… Each and every truly repentant individual member of the Christian faithful, duly absolved through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and restored with Holy Communion, who devoutly makes a pilgrimage to the Papal Basilica of St. Paul on the Ostian Way and who prays for the Supreme Pontiff’s intentions, will be granted the Plenary Indulgence from temporal punishment for his/her sins, once sacramental forgiveness and pardon for any shortcomings has been obtained. The Christian faithful may benefit from the Plenary Indulgence both for themselves and for the deceased, as many times as they fulfill the required conditions but without prejudice to the norm stipulating that the Plenary Indulgence may be obtained only once a day.”
Best known for his rich proclamation of free grace and severe condemnation of any church that would preach a different gospel, Paul’s birth being celebrated with indulgences is the irony of the century.
Biblically, we can place these varied but similar perspectives in one of two categories: in its narrower and more stringent form we can categorize it as Legalism, that we are justified by our obedience to a strict code of belief and ethics. In its more general, liberal form we can call it Moralism, which does not require strict adherence to a law of some sort, but general adherence to moral principles of one kind or another. Moralism is just Legalism’s lazy little brother.
The problems for the Legalist and the Moralist are two-fold. The first problem is that obedience to law and morality in one instance does not remove the permanent guilt for disobedience in any other instance. There is no justification for stealing a candy bar earned by offering to mow your neighbor’s lawn. That idea is just sheer nonsense. The idea that there is a balance on one side of which are weighed your good deeds and the other of which weighs your failures is wrong because it fundamentally misunderstands the nature of guilt and responsibility. Doing good in one instance cannot negate doing evil in another instance, even if it mitigates the consequences of evil, since everything you do is permanent.
The second problem is that fulfilling your duty to obey the law does not earn you any rewards, and obeying God’s law is our duty. Luke 17:7-10, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Since there is no merit in performing one’s duty and only guilt is incurred by failing to do so, the scale of good would be empty and the scale of evil would be full. Let’s be perfectly clear that there is no justification in that.
Legalism and Moralism are forms of self-justification which rely on a goodness, a righteousness inside of ourselves where only guilt and sin exist. It is self-delusional to look to the source of a problem in the hope of finding the solution to that problem. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Mt. 7:18) Permanent guilt is not removed by obeying the law, unless it is obeyed perfectly. And it has become an almost cliché truism to recognize that “nobody’s perfect.”