Getting back to basics takes concentration on the foundational building blocks. A baseball player may go back to the basics of a swing. An author goes back to the basics of writing. A Christian goes back to the basics of the gospel. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we discover the basics of the gospel that benefits the seasoned Christian, those exploring the faith, and everyone in between.
In Romans 2:1-3:8, Paul presents the case that God is fair by proving that all are guilty. In a court case, evidence is presented to show the guilt of a defendant. The evidence is not to be mere circumstantial, but concrete. Here, in our country, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. A person is convicted when they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Paul will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that all are guilty, and God is indeed fair.
Paul argues that in Romans 2:1-6, those who are quick to condemn others but slow in judging themselves are found guilty by their own judgment. When we pass judgment one another and declare what should be the penalty, we are usurping God from His divine judgment seat and really passing judgment on ourselves. God judges on a standard of perfection. God’s fairness is seen in that He judges justly.
Then, we read in Romans 2:7-13, Paul’s case to all well-doers that if they could be perfect in every way, they would be acceptable. The problem is that no one can live perfectly. This is bad news. But, the good news is that we are not saved by good works. We are saved as we place our faith in Jesus Christ. However, those who are saved will do good works. The real spiritual power is for those who believe in Christ for salvation and through the power of the Holy Spirit desire to obey it. Therefore, God’s fairness is seen in His just verdict.
Paul further explains in Romans 2:14-16 that the Jews (today’s equivalent of those who have the Bible) have the Scriptures, but they do not live up to it. The fact is that you find some who do not have the Bible living better lives than those who do. The relatively good behavior, not perfect behavior for no person, lives a perfect life, condemns those who have the Bible. How does this even occur? It occurs because “the law is written on their hearts” (Rom 2:13). We all know what it feels like to be accused by our conscience then explain it away. Whether we know of God through special revelation (the Bible) or general revelation (nature), we all know something of God and of what is right and have chosen to sin against that something we know.
Paul then proceeds to address the Jews directly. In present-day terms, he could have spoken directly to people who have a bible. To summarize, he writes to discuss whether or not we who have access to so many Bible translations, who have so many churches to choose from, who live amid a culture of Judeo-Christianity: is this enough for salvation? Paul explains in Romans 2:17-24 that being a Jew or being raised in Christian teaching is not enough to save anyone. Further, we discover that when a person with the Scriptures treats it as something external, not allowing it to be a transforming agent in their lives, the person without the Scriptures is caused to dishonor God and His Word. Paul even dives deeper in Romans 2:25-29 by declaring that religious rites are not enough, in and of themselves, to save anyone. To the Jew, circumcision was the rite Paul writes of specifically. For the person with the Bible today; its baptism, confirmation, church membership, or communion. Paul clearly teaches that these things are powerless without real faith in Jesus Christ to save.
Paul clarifies, in Romans 3:1-8, that there is a benefit to being a Jew or today being raised in the church. However, neither of these things saves anyone. It merely gives a person greater access to the truth of the gospel that leads people to place their faith in Christ, bringing salvation to them.
Paul understood that people often attack God’s character, His fairness, when we speak of guilt. Paul has explained that God is good and just. God’s fairness is seen in that He judges justly, His verdict is just. All are under judgment, but the judgment has not been carried out yet. The sentence has been given, but not commenced. This is good news because God is here. He wants to bless us by working in and through our lives. I pray we will take Him up on His offer. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!