Accuse or Excuse?

“There is no favoritism with God. All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:11-16 HCSB)

Did your parents have a favorite? Was it you? As kids, we often think our parents favor one child over another. Sometimes we think they love the oldest more, at other times the youngest. Can you tell that’s what I thought, at times? We always seem to find a way to validate our thoughts and feelings. One is a better athlete, another is a better student. One is cute, another is funny and has an outgoing personality. Maybe some have, maybe some do but most parents love their children equally. Sometimes one child just needs more love and attention because of something that is happening, but that doesn’t mean parents love one more than another. Also, nobody ever warns you how hard it is to be a parent. Maybe they do and we don’t listen. Let me warn you, being a parent is NOT for the weak or faint of heart. It is hard!

Well, children certainly DON’T come with a manual. It would be so much easier if you could just turn to the index and find the solution. Let’s see… How to stop temper tantrums, page 18. How to address sibling rivalry, page 22. How to prepare yourself for the first day of Kindergarten, page 56. How to survive the teenage years, page 467. How to remain calm when teaching them to drive, page 512. How to love them when they hurt, see Hugs and Kisses, page 1. There should also be an addendum on how to parent your parents and care for them when they can no longer care for themselves.

So, does God have favorites? As our Heavenly Father, does He ever favor one child over another? Or even one group of His children over another? While there is no doubt that the Israelites are identified in scripture as God’s chosen people, God’s choosing was not to show favoritism but to achieve His purposes and plan through them. God didn’t choose them because He loved them more or to the exclusion of others, His choice was intended to achieve His goal of bringing all men back to their innate purpose of being His people. He would work through one in an attempt to bring all of them home. In today’s focal passage, Paul begins to address the Jewish view of themselves and of the Gentiles (non-Jews) and how that unfolds in God’s judgment and work of salvation. Let’s take a look…

You may have noticed, I included the last sentence of the previous paragraph in today’s focal passage: “There is no favoritism with God.” While I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this statement specifically addresses God’s judgment of men, it is certainly not limited by that. If God shows no favoritism in His judgment, then He must also show no favoritism in His actions or blessings. In fact, we often read right over those statements in scripture without realizing their purpose. For example, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45 HCSB)

Did you catch that? If not, go back and read that passage, again, and pay attention to this phrase and how it impacts the statement: “so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” We are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors so that we might be sons of or LIKE our Father. He gives rain to those who are righteous and unrighteous – those who deserve and who don’t deserve His blessings. But why? Why would God love and bless those who hate and curse Him? Because He LOVES them, they are His creation – His children, in a general sense but not in the spiritual sense – yet. Why would He command us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors? So that they would come to know God’s love and grace through our actions.

Unfortunately, many Christians and, especially, American Christians want to act like God does have favorites and loves some more than others. Americans often view the blessings of God as evidence of God’s love and favoritism, we even sing about it – God bless America. It is as though we want to take our blessings and flaunt them, rub the rest of the world’s nose in them and say, “See how much God loves us. Look how much He has blessed us! He obviously loves US more than you! We MUST be doing things right!” Before you go too far, I would remind you that He makes rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous, those who deserve it and those who don’t. We might just be the unrighteous in this statement, not the righteous like we assume. The only way to tell? Evaluate our actions in light of God’s Word and commands.

In the early 1800’s, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to see for himself the results of this “grand experiment” in Democracy that the Americans had undertaken. He wanted to know what was different about American democracy and whether those differences could be achieved in Europe. While Tocqueville’s work, Democracy in America, is well worth reading, here are a few of his insights that I find quite revealing… “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great… The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults… Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom… Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” Unfortunately, we seem to have lost sight of some of those very qualities that Tocqueville saw in our nation.

In many ways, we’ve lost that inherent, national goodness that Tocqueville saw in us. We now see America’s greatness as the economic advantages or privileges she grants us as individuals or as the military might we wield to maintain and ensure those economic advantages or privileges. Our incessant drive for equality and liberty among men that is based in personal morality and rooted in our enduring faith is no longer a defining characteristic of our nation. Some historians, today, might lead you to believe that any view of morality and faith as defining characteristics of our national conscience was all a fabric of our imaginations and came out of the Protestant church build-up following World War II. However, Tocqueville’s words were written 100 years prior to that time and he clearly describes a national sense of equality, morality and faith and one that we desperately need to recapture. To recapture it, let me share with you the context of Tocqueville’s quote regarding America’s goodness:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”  Alexis de Tocqueville

Oh, I failed to mention that Tocqueville’s visit to America happened to coincide with a spiritual revival or movement, often referred to as The Second Great Awakening, in America. What’s my point? What we need in America is not a push to get people to the polls in November to elect the right candidate to the presidency to save us. What we need is a push to get American Christians on their knees before our Holy God in humble submission, honest confession and true repentance. You see, what Paul condemns in this passage are those who hear the truth of God’s Word and His Law and yet ignore the implications, the call to obedience. Can we change our national culture? Yes, but not in the ways you might think. Our national culture is the result of our collective personal beliefs, thoughts and actions. The only way to affect change on our national culture is to affect change in an individual, and another, and another. Does American need to be GREAT, again. Yes, but great in her humility before God, her righteousness, spiritual strength, and desire for individual equality. We must be willing to see our flaws, and fix them. We don’t need to go back to what we were, we need to go forward, upward and beyond what we were. To correct what’s wrong and embrace what’s right and just and that should start, MUST start, in America’s churches!

Next, Paul addresses the implications of God’s fair and just judgment. Nobody is left out. We are all subject to God’s judgment and wrath upon sin, the Jew and the Gentile. Those who have the Law and those who don’t. Wait, how can God judge us if we haven’t known or had access to His law or His revealed Word – physical or written – Jesus or Bible? How can we be held accountable for something we’ve never heard or read? First, Paul points out that men have the revelation of God’s basic law written on their heart. He says that the evidence of this is seen in man’s knowledge and obedience to these things in human nature, or consciousness.

I used the term consciousness here intentionally as opposed to conscience. We tend to think of conscience as being shaped and formed by the moral norms of our culture. So, we see some differences in these things from culture to culture. However, when I refer to our moral consciousness then I mean something deeper, more natural and less culturally defined. For example, I think we would agree that there are some moral values that should, and do, transcend cultures. Things like the value of human life that would lead us to say that murder is wrong. Or, things like the value and sanctity of marriage or personal possessions that would lead us to say that adultery, marital infidelity and stealing are wrong. We also believe children and the weak should be protected from harm and defended against those who might try and exploit or abuse them.

I would remind you that Paul says, in essence, our own sense of right and wrong or God’s internal law will be used to judge our own actions. We will be held accountable to our own standards, not just those we display but those we know and value. Paul is SO confident that God’s law is written on the hearts, souls and minds of men that he says our own thoughts, beliefs and standards will either accuse or excuse our actions. Think about that, your own standards will either accuse or excuse your actions on the day of Judgment. While Christ is certainly our standard by which to measure righteousness, God has not left those who do not know Him or know of Him without a measurement – He wrote it on their hearts so that they cannot claim ignorance or misunderstanding.

In fact, that truth is really at the heart of what we’ve labeled The Golden Rule: “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” (Luke 6:31 HCSB) The very same self-focused desires of how you want and expect others to treat you should motivate you to treat them that same way. Your competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse you on the day of Judgment. What does he mean by “competing thoughts?” I can tell you, this doesn’t require some long explanation of Greek words or verb tense. You know what he means… you struggle with those thoughts, don’t you? I know I do. I want, expect and even demand that others treat me with dignity, respect and honesty. Yet, do I give them the same courtesy?

I recently started commuting about 35 miles each day to a new job. For the past 30+ years I’ve driven less than 10 miles to the same job, same office, same building. The small town where I live doesn’t exactly have traffic jams, at least not on a normal, daily basis. However, I now drive into Oklahoma City daily and that is a very different commute. In fact, I even alternate my route from my morning commute to work and my evening drive home. In the mornings, one route to work is best and quickest due to traffic patterns and in the evenings a different route home is best and quickest due to traffic patterns. Sometimes, I get frustrated at my fellow commuters. Ok, I sometimes get mad and vocal with my fellow commuters. I expect them to show me some courtesy, but I often fail to do the same for them. My own competing thoughts judge me, and I regularly have to pray, confess and ask forgiveness.

Have you ever been guilty of wanting God to hold your enemies to a higher standard of expectation than you hold yourself? Ok, let me restate that… have you ever wanted God to hold your co-workers to a higher standard of work than He should hold you? Have you ever wanted God to hold your brother-in-law to a higher standard of moral character than you want or expect Him to hold you? Are you beginning to see how your own thoughts, competing thoughts, will be used to judge your actions on that day?

One last thought… Paul wants us to recognize that God’s judgment will be right and just, for everyone. You and I have been exposed to His Word and His grace and we will be judged in accordance with that knowledge and blessing. Others have not been exposed to God’s Word and only know His common grace and His revelation of Himself in and through nature. They will be judged in accordance with their knowledge. But here’s Paul’s point, none of us can claim ignorance or an excuse for our sin. We will be held accountable and found guilty based on our failure to live up to our own standards and expectations based on God’s law written on our hearts and His written Word/Law and full revelation of Himself in Jesus, as appropriate. His judgment will be right, just and complete.

Do your thoughts accuse or excuse your guilt? Will you kneel before God in humble contrition and Godly sorrow as your thoughts accuse you, seeking His grace, mercy and forgiveness? Or will you stand defiantly before Him making excuses for your life choices and actions, only to have your own condemning words and thoughts placed into evidence against you?

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