A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Moral World Under Sentence of Condemnation
"According to Truth"
It is the truth, not "truth." Perhaps you have been in court at some time and have seen a witness called to the stand. He swears "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," but he does not do it, and so justice is miscarried. Paul is saying that when God sets Himself up to judge man, there is going to be the truth - "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." In other words, the moral man will have to face the naked and awful truth when he comes before God. That is what the apostle wants him to face here; there will be no evasions. Paul intimates here that these people knew that very principle. He says, "We are sure" that this is so. In this way he reaches out and includes all these men, whether Jews or Gentiles. The Jews knew that God is true and righteous; the Gentile believers also knew that God would judge according to truth.
Now, in view of that knowledge, here is the way Paul sets forth man's attitude toward God:
In verses 3-5, there are three words which are key words - one in each verse. The first key word (v. 3) is "thinkest." (My version is "reckon"; it means "reason.") Second (v. 4) is "despisest." Third (v. 5) is "treasurest." Each word indicates the contents of its verse.
These men knew that God's judgment was according to the truth. How are you going to explain their attitude in going on in sin? Paul says it is their false reasoning: "Did you think you are going to escape the judgment of God?" Any man who thinks so is the victim of false reasoning.
Suppose a man denies that. "I did not think that way." Paul says there is just one alternative - you "despise!" It's either one thing or the other - either you are the victim of false reasoning or you "despisest ... the riches of His goodness and forbearance in longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." That expression "not knowing" is one word in the Greek. It does not mean that the man is absolutely ignorant of it, but he "ignores" it.
That God has not punished sinners for nineteen hundred years, that He has not broken through the heavens and struck men down, because God has not brought a judgment on the whole world since the flood has led men to draw a false conclusion from this delay. They are concluding that God will never punish sin because He is now silent. They ought to learn from this that God is longsuffering, that He is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9). That is what they ignore: "Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." From he silence of God, men draw wrong conclusions.
In either event (it does not matter which), a man who reasons this way is treasuring up wrath for himself. He is like the man who goes to the bank every week and puts away twenty dollars. He is treasuring up his wealth. To think that every thought, word, and deed of a man out of Christ is laying up wrath. Contrary to this, Jesus said, "Lay up ... treasures in heaven" (Matthew 6:20). That is a different kind of treasure. In reality, the righteous do lay up treasure in heaven, but the wicked are laying up a different kind of treasure that is going to be poured out on them in the day of God being revealed, but a time is coming when it is going to be fully revealed.
"According to His Deeds"
In this passage Paul is accused of teaching salvation by works. Notice in the seventh verse, when he starts to explain: "To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life." Some say Paul there teaches that if a man does a certain kind of work, he will have eternal life. But I answer, note the following points.
In the first place, even before looking at the passage before us, this could not be possible, for Paul says, "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (3:20). And again, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (4:5). Paul never taught salvation, or justification by works.
Nevertheless, from the phrase in the seventh verse, "Patience in well-doing," comes the question, "what is well-doing?" In every age of man God has revealed certain truth, and obedience to that truth in that age constituted well-doing. Paul here is not dealing with simply one age - the age of grace, the age of law, or any other age. He is laying down an eternal principle by which God is going to judge men in all ages, and he says: "To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life." Let us go back to the age of conscience, and see what is well-doing . Genesis 4:3-7: "If thou doest well" - the same expression. "If thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door." Abel brought the sacrifice of an animal: Cain did not. God said one man did well; the other man did not. Well-doing in that age was bringing the appointed sacrifice. In the words of 1 John 3:12, Cain is condemned "because his works were evil." So, well-doing back there was bring the sacrifice that God appointed. The age of law required that they keep God's law, and if they broke it, bring a sacrifice.
What is well-doing in this age? Well-doing in this age is believing on the name of the Son of God. "What must we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:28-29). Now if you want to do well in God's sight in this age, believe on the Son of God. That is well-doing.
When the end comes and God judges men, He is going to judge them by their life attitude, their heart attitude toward the truth in the age in which they lived. This is a general principle which is not confined to one dispensation at all, but is applicable down through the ages.
When God reveals a certain truth in a certain age, there are two classes that emerge. One class is obedient to the truth, and the other is rebellious. For them that rebel there shall be "wrath and indignation" from God's side (v. 8); "tribulation and anguish" on man's side (v. 9). This will be true for "the Jew first, and also the Greek." That is an awful priority, isn't it? Did you ever think of it? What was the Jew morally? He said, "I am first." and he was first, too. But in a larger sense than he ever dreamed of! For if God would render to him first from the standpoint of righteousness, He would also render to him first from the standpoint of responsibility. Revelation of truth determines priority in the mind of God. On the positive side the principle of judgment follows the same order (v. 10).
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 22 - "No Respect of Persons")