We’re More Stubborn Than We Think

Romans 2:5-11

June 11, 2006 | Brian Bill

In celebration of the date 6-6-06, this past Tuesday, a town called Hell, Michigan put on a party and invited the whole country to come.  Radio stations as far away as San Diego and Seattle raffled off trips to Hell in honor of 6-6-6.  The opening line in the story went like this: “They’re planning a hot time in Hell today.”  The mayor of the town exclaimed, “Everyone who comes will get a letter of authenticity saying you’ve celebrated June 6, 2006 in Hell.”  The town’s official website lists their many festivities and concludes with these words: “We’re just taking advantage of an excuse to have fun!  Come on out to Hell for a good time.”

Friends, this is really not very funny.  Those who live in Hell, Michigan may have had a good time on Tuesday, but those who are living forever in Hell are in eternal torment and unending misery.  Many like to joke about the place of judgment because they can’t stand to think about the reality of it.  Friends, it is not a party place.  Interestingly, one study I read reports that only about a third of Scottish clergy believe in the existence of Hell.  According to a recent Harris poll, 76% of Americans expect to go to Heaven while only 2% believe they will go to Hell.  A Gallup poll found that 71% believe in Hell, they just don’t want to hear about it.

Even from pulpits across our country, you will seldom hear Hell preached because it is considered too negative.  One article I read this week pointed out that Hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves “increasingly hesitant to sermonize on Christianity’s outpost for lost souls.”  Kenneth Kantzer, former editor of Christianity Today, once said that he had not heard a sermon on Hell in 30 years. The thinking is that people won’t come back to church if they hear a sermon about Hell.  I anticipate that some of you won’t like this message today for that reason.  Part of me wants to tell you that we don’t make a regular practice of preaching about Hell, which is true.  On the other hand, if we’re faithful to Scripture, we need to do more of it.  Please know that my motive in doing so today is love and a desire to communicate the full counsel of God.  Did you know that Jesus actually spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven?

After hearing about the festivities in Hell, Michigan I went back and read what is arguably the most famous sermon ever preached called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathon Edwards in 1741.  I’d like to read some excerpts from this sermon which caused people to back down in repentance and break down in tears.  Edwards was not known to be flamboyant but instead was very solemn, never once looking up from his notes.  What moved people were the words and the fact that Edwards wept through the whole sermon as he warned them about God’s coming wrath.  I will interject other sections of his sermon into the message this morning, hoping and praying for similar results in your hearts, and in mine.

Using as his text Deuteronomy 32:35: “Their foot shall slide in due time,” Edwards uttered these words (www.ccel.org): 

There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God…The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.

We will not shrink back from the teaching of Scripture for we are convinced that we must first understand the horrible news about Hell before we will embrace the good news of the Gospel.  Last week we learned from Romans 2:4 that God’s kindness should lead us to repentance.  Today we’ll learn that God’s coming condemnation should motivate us to turn to Him before it’s too late.  The Bible is very clear about absolutes.  Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life.  That means that there is no other way.  You are either in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son or you are still in the kingdom of darkness.  You are saved or you are lost.  You are forgiven or you are still in your sins.  You will go to Heaven when you die or you will go to Hell.  

Our Judgment is Personal

Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 2:5-11.  I’d like us to begin by looking at verse 6: “God will give to each person according to what he has done.”  God looks not only at what we say but at what we do.  Some have wondered if Paul is contradicting what he teaches in the rest of Romans that justification comes only by faith and not by works.  The simple answer is no.  Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  Salvation is only by faith alone in Christ’s work alone while judgment is based upon the deeds people have done.  Our works, however, reveal what is in our heart for what is on the inside eventually comes out.  One pastor put it this way: “That’s why God judges by works.  Not to establish the way of salvation but the basis of judgment.  You are saved by faith and judged by works…your works ultimately reveal what is in your heart – either faith leading to life or unbelief leading to judgment.”  

If our faith is real it will produce fruit.  Saving faith is always demonstrated by good works because our deeds declare what’s hidden in our heart.  Notice that “each person” will come under the searching judgment of God and that God’s criterion is what we have done.  Judgment is an individual matter and very personal.  No one will escape and God will be extremely thorough.  This idea of judgment according to deeds is taught throughout Scripture:

Ecclesiastes 12:14: “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” 

Matthew 16:27: “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”

John 5:28-29: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” 

2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus divides the entire human race into two categories.  Those on the broad road and those on the narrow road: “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Paul picks up on this idea by showing us that there are many on the road to wrath and there a few on the path to peace. 

God Divides the World into Two Groups

The argument in this passage follows a literary form called a chiasmus, meaning that there are two interwoven ideas interspersed throughout the section.  Specifically, it’s a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases.  Paul doesn’t introduce one idea and then when he’s done, he moves to the next one.  Instead, he bounces back and forth between the two.  Let’s take his second argument first.

1. The Savior-centered path of perseverance leads to peace (7, 10). 

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life…but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” To persist has the idea of “patient continuance.”  By persevering over a lifetime, we become one kind of person or another.  This saying has a lot of merit: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”

Those who have put their faith in Christ will exhibit the fruit of doing good deeds.  When we are centered on the Savior we will seek His glory and His honor and will then live forever.  Believers long to hear these words from the lips of our Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant…come and share your Master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21).   In the meantime we are granted glory, we will be honored and we are given peace.  You can’t beat that, can you?

2. The self-centered road of rejection leads to wrath (5, 8-9). 

An unrepentant heart that refuses to be melted by God’s mercy will be jolted by God’s judgment

Friends, we are either centered on the Savior or we are centered on self.  Let’s pick up verses 5, 8-9: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed…But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Let’s look at verse five phrase by phrase.

  • “Stubbornness.” This word means “hard” and we get the word sclerosis from it, as in hardening of the arteries, arteriosclerosis or even sclerosis of the liver.  In the Book of Hebrews we’re told three times to “harden not your hearts.”   John MacArthur states that hardening of the arteries may “take you to the grave but hardening of the heart will take you to Hell.”  Most of us are too stubborn to stop sinning because frankly we enjoy it too much.
  • “Unrepentant heart.”  An unrepentant heart that refuses to be melted by God’s mercy will be jolted by God’s judgment.  Ezekiel 36:26 speaks of those who had a “heart of stone.”  Jesus was indignant with those with hard hearts in Mark 3:5: “He looked around at them in anger… deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.”
  • “Storing up wrath.”  This has the idea of accumulating or collecting.  Those who don’t know Jesus are accumulating their own condemnation.  The full passage from which Jonathon Edwards quotes one phrase is Deuteronomy 32:34-35: “Have I not kept this in reserve and sealed it in my vaults?  It is mine to avenge; I will repay.  In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”  This concept is clarified in 1 Thessalonians 2:16: “In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit.  The wrath of God has come upon them at last.”   It’s as if every sin is brought to light and then added to the heap.  Did you catch what happened after the 17 terror suspects were arrested last weekend in Canada?  The lawyer who is representing one of the alleged terrorists revealed that his client was also planning to behead the Prime Minister of Canada.  I think he may need a new lawyer.  This charge will be added to his other charges as they accumulate against him.  In a similar way, God is adding more and more charges against us every day.  

James Montgomery Boice pictures a greedy individual who has been storing up wealth, which contrary to his expectations, is destined to destroy him.  This man collected gold coins for years and stored them up in his attic above his bed.  But one night as he was sleeping the weight of the gold coins broke through the ceiling in his bedroom and killed him.  This is the way it is for those who pile sin upon sin and show contempt for God’s kindness.  It will eventually all come crashing down.  Psalm 90:11: “Who knows the power of your anger?  For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.”

  • “Day of God’s wrath.”  If you don’t take kindly to God’s kindness now you will receive His fury in the future.  We’re introduced to God’s wrath in Romans 1:18 where we learn that wrath is already being revealed and in Psalm 7:11 where we read: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.”  We see this in the debilitating downward drag of sin on our lives.  As Bill Hybels often says, our tendency is to drift south spiritually.  But God’s wrath is more than just that.  It will be poured out sometime in the future as Isaiah 13:9 says: “See, the day of the LORD is coming–a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger…”  Revelation 20:11-12 teaches that there is a set day in which God’s wrath will be unleashed, a time in which His patience and tolerance will run out: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.  Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” 

Verses 8-9 teach that the self-seeking person ultimately rejects truth and follows evil.  The one who lives only for himself or herself will come face-to-face with God’s wrath and anger and will end up in terrible trouble and deep distress.  I fear that too much of modern-day Christianity feeds the cult of self.  When our focus is on being happy, healthy and wealthy we lose sight of God’s demands for holiness.  Remember that God is more concerned about forming our character than He is with us having fun and being comfortable.

C.S. Lewis captures it well: “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.  Lose your life and you will save it.  Submit to the death of your ambitions and your favorite wishes every day…keep back nothing.  Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours.  Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead.  Look out for yourself and you will find, in the long run, only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay.  But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in.”

Let’s go back and hear from Jonathon Edwards again…

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

Verse 11 states that “God does not show favoritism.”  In the Greek this is a compound word made up of the word for “face” and the verb “to take.”  It means to take at face value.  God does not play favorites because everything becomes clear in front of His face, and that’s not good news for religious people because God does not grade on a curve.  You see, the Jews thought they would get some special treatment from God, thinking that because they were the chosen ones they would get a pass.  They’ll get a special deal alright, but they won’t be happy about it.  Special privilege always bears greater responsibility.  While verse 10 states that glory, honor and peace will come first for the Jew; verse 9 states that trouble and distress will also come first for the Jew.  Throughout history God has given grace first to Israel; but He has also given judgment first.  Deuteronomy 10:17: “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.”

I Should Go to Hell

I should go to Hell because that is where I belong.  But, I am going to Heaven because Jesus Christ died on a cross for me.  He took my punishment so that I could go free.  Friend, God has done everything necessary for you go to Heaven and He has posted an enormous stop sign on the road to Hell in the shape of a cross.  If the highway to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to Heaven is paved with the blood of Christ.  If you doubt that God’s wrath is real, look at what Jesus went through for you.  He took upon Himself the full measure of wrath that He did not deserve, so you and I would not get what we do deserve.  Our sins and our condemnation accumulate each day we serve self and not the Savior.  Our case file gets thicker and thicker as the evidence mounts against us.  James Montgomery Boice pointedly states: “That wrath is thundering down the chasm of history toward the day of final judgment, and one day it must break upon you unless you stand before God in Jesus Christ.”

Here’s the deal.  Either you will bear the righteous wrath of God or you need a substitute to take it from you. Let me say it clearly.  You don’t have to go to Hell.  God has provided a way of escape for you.  But even God’s way of escape will do you no good unless you reach out and take it.  If you ignore Jesus, there is no hope for you.  God doesn’t have a Plan B for those who reject his Son.

A bunch of bikers to that small town on the wrong side of the lake.  They dubbed their adventure the “Straight to Hell” ride.  Friend, may I ask you some very personal questions with eternal ramifications?  When you die will you go straight to Hell?  Which road are you on?  Are you on the highway to Hell?  Or are you on the narrow path that leads to Heaven?  Are you on the self-centered road of rejection that leads to wrath?  Or are you on the Savior-centered path of persistence that leads to peace?  Do you know what you need to do in order to go to Hell?  Nothing.

I turn one last time to Jonathan Edwards:

The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation…Almost every natural man that hears of hell flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what be is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself and that his schemes will not fail.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment…Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: ‘Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.’

The only way to be rescued from God’s wrath is by receiving what the Redeemer offers you.  1 Thessalonians 1:10: “And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.”  The only way to avoid God’s judgment is by trusting Jesus, for all of your guilt and condemnation was placed on Him: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  The righteous wrath of an infinite and holy God was poured out on Christ.  He suffered God’s wrath in our place, as evidenced by his cry from the cross in Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was forsaken so we don’t have to be.

John Piper states that whatever else our text teaches us, one thing is abundantly clear and immeasurably important: “Namely, when your life is over on this earth…God will give you either eternal life or wrath and indignation.  You will receive glory and honor and peace or you will receive tribulation and distress.  Heaven or Hell awaits you when you die.  And both will last forever.”  We’re stubborn, aren’t we?  In fact, if we were really honest some of us would give a different title to Edward’s sermon because we’re in fact upset with the Almighty.  We might call it something like this: “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.”   When you think about it, while it’s understandable to be angry at times, to stay angry with the righteous God of the universe is ultimately absurd.  Does that describe you?  Are you angry with Him right now?  

If God’s kindness is not leading you to repentance, then drop by drop every sin you commit is filling up a reservoir of condemnation that will drown you and send you to damnation

You may think you’re a Christian but maybe you’re not.  Perhaps you’re religious but you’ve not been redeemed.  Maybe you’re just bored with everything.  If so, it may be because you have not been born again.  If God’s kindness is not leading you to repentance, then drop by drop every sin you commit is filling up a reservoir of condemnation that will drown you and send you to damnation.  You should tremble at the magnitude of what is at stake in your life.  If you repent and receive Christ, you won’t get what you deserve…and that’s a good thing.  And you’ll have no reason to go to Michigan either.

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself.  I’ve been storing up wrath and I don’t want to do that anymore. I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living.  I don’t want to be on the self-centered road of rejection that leads to wrath.   By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation so I can get on the Savior-centered path of perseverance that leads to peace.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth.  With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day.  Thank you for absorbing the Father’s righteous wrath and giving me the gift of eternal life.  I believe your words are true.  I accept you into my heart.  Be my Savior and Lord.  I surrender to your leadership in my life.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?