All Have Sinned…
God holdsÂ every human accountable for obeying His commandments perfectly. Â Again, consider Romans 2:6-11:
â€œHe will render to each one according to his works: to those who by 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.Â There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.Â For God shows no partiality.â€
So, every human, whether Jew or Gentile, will be judged according to his/her works, whether he/sheÂ perfectly obeyed God or not.Â Every human?Â Yes.Â Every single human.Â Everyone will be judged by the same standard, whether theyâ€™ve memorized the Bible or have no idea the Bible exists.Â No one is off the hook. Â Now, this leads to an often-discussed and highly controversial topic: â€œDoes this really include the person who never hears of Godâ€™s standard for humanity?Â Will God hold him accountable, too?Â If so, how is that fair?â€Â Let’s first see how Paul answers this question:
1) People who know nothing about the Bible are guilty before God.
Paul addresses the reality of God’s judgment that rests on the Gentiles, who were not given the Word of God, saying that even they are â€œwithout excuse.â€Â And there are two reasons for this:
a) God made His existence known through creation (Rom. 1:19-20).
Despite attempts to explain away God’s creative activity under the guise of evolution, the truth is that, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Â Along these same lines, Paul writes:
â€œFor what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.Â For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Â So they are without excuseâ€ (Rom. 1:19-21).
In other words, God made known through creation His unfathomable power and godness (i.e., deity), so that all people everywhere are without excuse.Â But maybe youâ€™re thinking, â€œWithout excuse for what?â€ Â As we saw in a previous post, all of humanity is without excuse for failing to properly love and worship God. Â Continuing in Romans 1, we find that Paul makes exactly this argument:
â€œFor although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Â Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!Â Amen.â€
They are without excuse for failing to worship God properly.Â From the beginning, God revealed Himself to every human through creation so that they know that He exists, that He alone should be worshiped, and that to and for Him they should be thankful. Â Having failed to properly worship God, however, all men are rightly under God’s judgment.
b) God made His existence known in the human conscience (Rom. 2:14-16).
But it is not just creation that testifies to God’s existence: the human conscience also testifies to the reality of who God is and what He requires. Â In other words, while God has revealed Himself externally in the form of creation, He has also revealed Himself to all people internally by giving them consciences that are reflective of God’s own nature.Â Paul writes:
â€œFor when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.Â They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesusâ€ (italics mine).
So, does this mean that every person in the world knows by nature everything God requires? Â In a word, “No.” Â So, what does Paul mean in this passage? Â He means that even people who have no exposure to the Bible have a certain (not full) understanding of what God requires of them, so that they are judged guilty before God for violating their own conscience, their own standard, which is based upon what they do know about God. Â And the truth is that people don’t even live up to the demands of their own conscience, much less God’s demands for them.
As such, both creation and the human conscience testify to the reality of God, so that even those who have never been exposed to the Word of God are left guilty before God.
2) People who know the Bible are guilty before God.
Picking up in Romans 2, Paul pronounces Godâ€™s judgment on the Jews, who were “entrusted with the very words of God” (Rom. 3:2), have failed to meet God’s demands. Â Romans 2:1-5 says:
â€œTherefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.Â For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.Â We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.Â Do you suppose, O manâ€”you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourselfâ€”that you will escape the judgment of God?Â Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that Godâ€™s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?Â ButÂ because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when Godâ€™s righteous judgment will be revealed.â€
Do you see that people will not be judged on whether they know God’s Word; rather, people will be judged on whether they perfectly obey God’s Word, â€œ[f]or it is not the hearers (i.e., those who know God’s Word) of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers (i.e., those who obey God’s Word) of the law who will be justifiedâ€ (Rom. 2:13, italics mine).Â Every human being, whether they have the fulness of God’s revelation in the Bible or only know of Him via creation and their own conscience, will be judged by God because He has sufficiently revealed Himself to everyone.Â Â Knowing (or not possessing) the Word of God was never the primary issue, as the Jews thoughtâ€”obeying God’s Word has always been the primaryÂ issueâ€¦ and every human being has received enough revelation from God to know His standard.
The Penalty for Sin Is Death.
We sometimes live as if sin is no big deal. Â But the truth is that sin earns the kind of wage that you don’t want to receive. Â And Paul tells us about it in Romans 6:23, which says, “for the wages of sin is death.” Â In other words, sin brings about a just payment, which isÂ always andÂ inescapably both physical and spiritual death in a real place called hell where God’s enemies are punished forever. Â And the inescapability of this horrific wage is highlighted by Job, who said, â€œWho can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?Â There is not oneâ€ (Job 4:14). Â Similarly, Jeremiah sarcastically said, â€œCan the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?Â Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.â€ Â The point is that those who are wicked cannot make themselves acceptable to God by way of behavior modification or self-effort.
Does this mean that there is no way for a person to escape the just penalty of sin? Â Praise God that the answer to this question is, “No”! Â There is a “but.” Â And we’ll begin looking in my next post at why this little word is so precious. Â But if you’ve been reading along in this series to this point, and especially if the the content of this series is pretty new for you, my guess is that the fact there is a “but” is all ready a relief. Â But just wait. Â The goodness of the good news that follows this “but” is absolutely stunning. Â See you soon.