For thirteen years, I lived in a region of the United States unlike any other place where I have lived. The West Coast in the state of Washington is a place where the light of the Gospel is most dim. Only 10% of the population in the Puget Sound region near Seattle call themselves “Christian”. The culture is spiritual, maybe a little religious, but definitely not friendly to a vibrant faith in Jesus. It is from within the context of a culture that is antagonistic to my faith that I interpret Romans 2.
In direct contrast to the misperception that God is “mean” for judging the world “sinful,” I am convinced that the lost must hear that God’s justice is based on fairness to all people, all cultures, and all ages.
For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:11 NKJV)
Justice Is NOT
First, God’s justice is fair because He does not condemn anyone to eternal separation from His love (Hell) based on a rejection of Jesus. God’s justice has no regard for a person’s knowledge of Christian theology or how well they know the historical Jesus. Such knowledge would favor the educated or people born into Western Civilization and therefore unfairly punish those in non-Western civilizations, the illiterate, and the uneducated.
Second, God’s justice is fair because it is not based on wealth, education, parentage, cultural privilege, or skin color–it is only flawed human beings who make judgments based on such superficial observations. God, however, offers justice to everyone based on their personal choices.
Second, God’s justice is fair because those without the knowledge of His Law will be “graded” based on 100% conformity to their own personal moral code in their lives. God’s justice is fair because it is based on each person’s…
- actions which demonstrate a rejection of love and kindness toward others.
- actions which demonstrate a rejection of love for all creation.
- actions which demonstrate a rejection of self-love.
There is no partiality with God. His justice does not take into account a false perception of who we “think” or “feel” we are. God’s justice does not factor in Media image or PR campaigns. Instead of perception, God judges the reality of our being.
Case In Point
I am reminded of the incident a few years back with soccer player Elizabeth Lambert from the University of New Mexico. This young woman acted viciously on the field; pulling hair, kicking girls in the back, and punching other players in the face. At least a half-dozen times in one single game she attacked other players. After the game when a video of her actions spread across YouTube and the consensus from those who defended her was,
“that video does not show the real Elizabeth. She is really a kind and gentle person, and that video of her does not show who she is.”
But the video in fact does show who Ms. Lambert is—certainly not all of who she is—but it does show her choices, her anger, and her willingness to hurt other young women. So as much as Ms. Lambert does not think it is “fair” to show this video–it is fair. The comments from her defenders only make it worse because they prove that Ms. Lambert knows better. She is a nice person in other situations and knows how to be nice, yet during this game she chose to act in a way that violated her own moral code of conduct. Ironically then, in an effort to preserve her image, Ms. Lambert’s friends have actually revealed her hypocrisy.
But… don’t be too quick to judge her!
Ms. Lambert is not alone in her hypocrisy. Every one of us who saw Ms. Lambert’s video and recognized “she was wrong” also shares in her guilt.
I am equally guilty of the same anger…
There is no video showing me yelling at my kids.
There is no video of me speaking cruel words to my wife.
Yet in these choices, and many others I will not mention, I am no less a hypocrite than Ms. Lambert.
No matter where a person draws the line of justice, every single one of us falls short and every single one of us is fairly judged by God as a hypocrite–we just don’t have our failures shown on YouTube.
We All Share The Blame
…as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified. (Romans 2:12b-13 NKJV)
Everyone is condemned based on their choices and the only way for God to be fair is to provide a solution that is the same for everyone. God cannot excuse the actions of one person and then condemn someone else for the same thing. That would make God a hypocrite. The Law that God revealed in the Old Testament teaches us that everyone needs Jesus. He is the only solution that makes God’s justice fair. We are condemned by our choices, but forgiven through the life of Jesus. Our choices condemn us, but Jesus’ choice to die on the cross frees us.
Gal. 3:24 – Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Matt. 5:17)
“But That’s Not Fair!!!”
I hear the complaints now from my atheist friends.
“How can God possibly be called fair?”“
“How can God’s solution be fair when not everyone knows who Jesus is?”
“How can people be judged for not knowing Christ?”
“What about people who have never heard of Jesus?”
These are great questions and people are totally right for asking them. The sad part is, too many Christians don’t even understand how to answer them. Romans 2 addresses the very heart of this issue when Paul wrote to the non-believing Roman culture of the day.
For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law… for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:12a, 14-16 NKJV)
As I mentioned at the start, the lost are not judged by God on the basis of ignorance about Jesus, they are judged because they are born into sin and chose to cooperate with that sin.
The basis of God’s judgment is not the degree of revelation received, but the choices each person makes in response to the revelation they do possess. In other words, it is not how much you know, but what you do with it that matters. At the risk of sounding like a Universalist, there will be people in God’s eternity who have really bad theology. There will be people in God’s eternity with YHWH who do not have a deep understanding of the historical Jesus. There will be people in God’s eternity who cannot articulate the Gospel in clear and concise terms.
The best way I know to explain God’s fairness is to share with you two truths and a mystery.
Truth #1: Freedom from our own sin comes only through the person of Jesus Christ.
His death and resurrection is the only power that can save us.
Truth #2: God has promised to reveal Himself to anyone and everyone who seeks Him.
From the African tribalist, to the South American native, to the Chinese villager to the Seattle citizen… all who see God will find fair opportunity for salvation.
Mystery #1: God’s justice is fair.
People ask, what about those who die and have never heard the good news of Jesus. All I can say is that anyone who genuinely wanted to hear, will hear, and somehow when it all shakes out; God is fair. The “how” of God’s self-revelation continues to be a mystery, but the mystery does not invalidate the truth of what I know–God’s justice is based on fairness.