Things to Come – Romans 2:7-11

 
As our Lord Jesus was going about and ministering one day, a certain young man came running up to him. He threw himself on the ground before the Lord and asked a most important and earnest question: “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” This is recorded in all three of the Synoptic gospels, in almost the same language. Matthew tells us that the said, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The thing to notice is that he specifically asked about “eternal life.” I have to believe that the man was honest and sincere in this question. Luke’s account of that visit is in chapter 18. But earlier, in Luke 10, a similar question was posed by a completely different kind of person. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?”

I bring this to your attention, because I’d like you to see that where a Christian often speaks about “salvation,” an Hebrew might simply speak about “eternal life.” And the Bible reflects that back ground. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” In his great prayer the Lord Jesus, said, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” We use the word “salvation” to encompass all of the Lord’s future blessings on the saints. The Jew might have used the words “eternal life” to summarize the same sorts of things. And as Paul is addressing Jews for the most part in Romans 2, he uses the words “eternal life.”

I am hoping that over the last two weeks, you’ve grasped the basic message of this chapter. It says that whether or not you have committed the very worst of sins, you are a sinner. Whether or not you have committed murder or fornication, you shall stand before the Great Judge of Heaven and Earth. And He “will render to every man according to his deeds.”

In the midst of that exposition Paul presents several verses which confuse a lot of people. There are many who think that according to Paul’s gospel if they diligently do good things they will be given eternal life. Verse 7 – God “will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” Verse 10 – “Glory, honour, and peace” will be given to every man that worketh good.” If we take these verses out of their context, and out of the Book of Romans, and out of the Bible, perhaps an argument could be made for the idea that … God will be gracious towards those who live godly and do good things for their neighbors. That is precisely what is being preached in thousands of churches across this country today. But if that is true, it creates insurmountable contradictions within the Bible and even within Romans. For example there is Romans 4:1-5 – “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

A moment ago I said, “God will be gracious towards those who live godly and do good things for their neighbors.” But if by moral, generous, kindly, helpful living, someone earns eternal life, then it will have nothing to do with the grace of God. As Paul says in Romans 11, if something is “by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” God’s grace and man’s works do not fit into the same sentence together in a positive fashion. It’s either one or the other, but not both blended together. No sir, Paul wasn’t referring to any of the principles of the gospel in verses 7-11, but to the law, and to the judgment that will fall on us through the law. And the truth is that there has never yet been a man or woman on earth who has sufficiently or completely obeyed the truth and perfectly continued in well-doing.

That is the theme of the next chapter, chapter 3, and it is irrefutable. Because it cannot be denied, I’m not going cross that bridge right now. Actually, I’d like to lighten up just a bit, and pursue something from this chapter, but just a single step out of the context. There are a great many people today, just as the Jews did in Paul’s day, who yearn for eternal life. Paul uses several words, which used correctly, actually do say something about the effects of “salvation.”

We begin with the obvious: “ETERNAL LIFE.”

So far, just about everyone who has lived more than 120 years has died. Their hearts stopped beating, their brain functions ceased and they stopped breathing – they physically died. But the Bible teaches, and even hundreds of false religions concur, that there is a life beyond physical death. The other day I heard the TV interviewer – that guy with the suspenders – talking with some weirdos. He said something like, “Okay, there is no proof that there is life beyond death.” Then one of those abnormal, paranormals interrupted, “I disagree, I prove it every day in my work.” Lunatic or not, the man is right in this – there IS life beyond the grave.

But there is a huge and radical difference between “life beyond death” and “eternal life.” Notice that verse 7 makes a distinction between “eternal life” and something called “immortality.” “Immortality” is the Greek word “aphtharsia” (af-thar-see’-ah) and it is translated “incorruption” twice as often as “immortality.” It speaks about something which is opposite to the effects of death. When things die, they decay and rot away – they become corrupt. These people wanted to avoid that – they wanted incorruption and immortality. But to miss death or to undo death is not the same thing as “eternal life.” And the fact is everyone is immortal in the sense that we have undying souls.

But in the references that I’ve already given you, and in just as many more, the speakers, including the Lord Jesus and Paul, were implying that “eternal life” is a special never-ending life filled with the blessings of the eternal God. The Jews in their hypocritical religiousness, were yearning for never-ending bliss. Millions of professing Christians are striving by their alms, their good deeds, and their kindness to move from this world into another world in which they will reap the eternal rewards for their goodness.

As far as this eternal, everlasting, never-ending, continuous blessedness of God is concerned they are right. There is a life beyond death, which will last forever, and it will be filled with the eternal blessings of God. But by the very use of those words, there is the implication that the opposite to eternal life exists. And unlike the idea of so many unbelievers, the opposite of eternal life is not just death. The opposite to eternal life is eternal death – the judgment of God for that same length of time – eternity. These Jews, along with every other sane man on earth wants “eternal life” and opposed to “eternal death.”

Another word used in verse 7 to describe one of the aspect of salvation is “GLORY.

These Jews were seeking “glory.” But that is one of those words with lots of different meanings – eight according to my dictionary. Did Paul mean that those people were seeking “glorification?” I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that God’s saints will be glorified, because I certainly do think so. But what these people wanted was a little more general than that.

In this case “glory” once again signifies all that Heaven is and all that it will contain for the saint of God. I don’t think that any of us can imagine how beautiful the perfect abode of Christ will be. It will be absolutely glorious. It will have a brilliance and perhaps colors that we have not yet seen and never can see with these eyes. We have all seen what we thought was the perfect rainbow. There will be one rainbow in Heaven – over the throne of God. And likely it will be more dazzling and perfect than any that we’ve ever seen on earth. And have you noticed that as you move the earthly rainbow moves with you? I’m sure that the Heavenly rainbow will appear to move as well, because the central focus and attraction of Heaven will be the Lord upon this throne. The Book of Revelation describes the Heavenly city, using terms like “streets of gold” and “gates of pearl.” I don’t want to suggest that these are not going to be true – because they probably are. But I tend to think that these are just the tip of the iceberg, and that human language is incapable of fully describing the glory of Glory. Glory will be glorious; the gold will be more golden and the gates more pearly.

The third word used in verse 7 is “HONOUR.

Heaven will be the place where the approbation of God is showered down upon His people. “Approbation” is one of those $2.00 words that don’t get used very often, and perhaps justly so. The second definition of the word speaks about “official approval” – OFFICIAL approval. When the Lord Jesus came out of the grave after His crucifixion, that was the Father’s official approbation of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. He was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” And when the lowly Christian, humbly serving the Lord, studying the Lord and yearning for the Lord, is finally translated to Heaven, it will indicate the approbation of God upon him.

But the first definition of that word adds just a little more color to his welcome home. “Approbation” is an expression of warm approval and praise. As inconceivable as it seems, Heaven will hold at least some kind of praise from God for His saint. Yes, I know that the Christian will have contributed nothing to his salvation or entrance into that place. Yes, I know that if there is one temptation that he parried and deflected it was by the strength of God and not his own. Yes, I realize that all his service for God has been empowered by God Himself. Yes, I know that he will be embarrassed to hear single syllable of praise from the lowliest angel. But nevertheless, these words suggest that there will be praise and honour given to him in Heaven.

And by the way, without glory and honour, immortality would not be all that enjoyable. Without glory and honour, eternal life would only be the extension of existence.

A fourth aspect of Heaven is “PEACE” – verse 10.

“Glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:” Peace is the state of confirmed joy and prosperity. I can’t say that it is the pinnacle of this holy temple, but in some ways it might be. It is the varnish that seals and protects whatever other blessings there are for the saint.

Let’s say that a foolish neighbor of yours has just won the Powerball Lottery, which is over $100 million now. Of course he is ecstatic with joy; he cannot contain his excitement. Immediately he is out looking for a million dollar house, and he quickly spends another million on cars and other toys. He feels that he has to give away another 10 million to family and friends. Then he finds that he has family and friends that he didn’t know that he had. He doesn’t immediately realize that the government is going to take about half of it right off the top. And then there are lawyers and accountants necessary to protect what he has been given. And before a year is up, he realizes that his money is running through his hands like water. The average person is incapable of enjoying that kind of money for very long. And then there worries over con-artists, terrorists and other criminals. Will his children be safe playing at the park; will they need armed guards because they are kidnap threats? He might have $100 million for a little while, but I guarantee that it won’t give him any peace.

Or let’s say that the foolish Jews to whom Paul was writing, were correct in thinking that they would enter this glory, honour and eternal life because they attended the synagogue every week and tithed of all that they had. But here is one man who, early in his business career, lied about a job rival which got that man fired. As a result he got a job to which he really wasn’t entitled. But now, here he is in Glory, based on the way that he generously used the money from a job which he didn’t deserve to have. What if that rival shows up in heaven and recognizes him? What if one of the angels does the necessary research and discovers his fraud and lie? What if the sins of his past are brought up before his face right now, and he is expelled from glory? How can Heaven be Heaven if it isn’t a place of genuine peace?

Peace is a state of confirmed glory. And that fact is, the man that I just described can’t possibly be in glory at all. But it’s not because of his sin and fraud; it’s because that is not how Heaven is entered. Paul is not describing the gospel in these verses, he is describing what people ascribed to the law. And it’s not the law which renders a man fit for Heaven. The only thing that the law can do, and this is what Paul is trying to explain…. The only thing that the law can do is prove that no one is fit for Heaven.

On the other hand, the gospel is a message about the grace of God. It deals, not with the self-righteous, good-doing, do-gooder. It deals with the acknowledged sinner, the liar and the fraud, who will acknowledge his sin before God. The gospel is a message about the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to make the required payment for the sins of that wicked man – Jew or Gentile. There will not be a single soul enjoying “eternal life” who doesn’t have a checkered past, a sinful past, even a wicked past. But every one of those sinners saved by grace and Jesus’ blood will be flooded with absolute peace, including peace about their presence in glory. They will know that it’s not because of their good deeds that they have been saved, but because of Christ Jesus’ good deed on the cross. They will know that their sins will not come up to haunt them, because every last one of them is under the blood of the crucified One. They will be able to enjoy eternal life in eternal peace, because that will be a part of the grace-package which the Lord will give to all his elect. The work that the Saviour did on Calvary was perfect, and met completely and entirely every need of everyone whom the Lord saves. Not one of the saints in glory will ever have to fear being lost – their salvation is guaranteed by Christ.

The Jews, of whom Paul was probably thinking when he wrote this passage, may have been in theological error, but the things for which they yearned of God, were quite appropriate. Eternal life, honour, glory, and peace. These are things that the saints of God will enjoy for eternity. They are things to come – which is the title to this message. But they are also to some degree things which the saints possess by faith even today. Do you possess them?