Derek Prince - Knowledge Increases Responsibility
In our last session we went through the first stage of this pilgrimage of the Roman epistle and I’ll briefly review what that stage was. It’s contained in the second half of chapter one and it deals with the universal guilt of the human race. And Paul establishes that all men of normal understanding have received through creation and through their own internal logical and mathematical capabilities an adequate and sufficient revelation of God in certain of His aspects. And consequently they are responsible for that revelation. But Paul says in actual fact what has happened with the human race is that it did not suit them to remain to retain the knowledge of God and that they turned away deliberately and immediately began to create for themselves false gods. They fell into idolatry, which is the greatest sin and is the breaking of the first commandment. And out of that idolatry they set on a path that took them steadily downwards.
And when they took this course, God eventually gave them over: first of all, to lust and impurity; then to homosexuality; and finally to what Paul calls a depraved mind, which expressed itself in every kind of vileness and wickedness. And that’s where chapter 1 ends. We are, as it were, at the bottom of a horrible pit. How many of you can remember what were the first two downward steps that humanity took that led them to that horrible conclusion. They did not glorify Him and they were not thankful. That’s wonderful. That's a Wonderful class.
Now today we’re going to go into chapter 2 and we’re going to consider the next stage of this pilgrimage. Chapter 2 deals with people who have been guilty of all the things of which the human race has been guilty but nevertheless, because they have required a certain religious knowledge, genuine knowledge, feel that they’re better and in a different class because of the fact that they know what is right and they know what is wrong. And in essence, Paul simply points out that so far from making better, this merely increases their responsibility. They are all the more accountable for the fact that they know more.
Now we need to remember that Paul was writing nineteen centuries and more ago. And so he addressed his remarks primarily to his own Jewish people. Because at that time the Jewish people were the ones who had the advantage over all other nations that they had, as Paul says, the oracles of the word of God, they knew God’s standards of right and wrong which most other nations didn’t know. But Paul says, so far from making them better, that simply makes them more accountable for the wrong that they do. Now I think it’s important to understand that after nineteen centuries, in a certain sense, the boot is on the other foot. Now it’s not so much the Jews that have the knowledge; it’s the professing Christians. Many of us, because of our national and racial backgrounds, have behind us centuries of Christian tradition and knowledge of God, familiarity with the Bible.
So, in this respect of responsibility for what we know, we are now in the place of the Jews nineteen centuries ago. That doesn’t exonerate the Jews, but it places upon us the same kind of responsibility that was on the Jewish people in that time. So, though Paul says, and he speaks to his own people and says, You, being a Jew... I’m not going to change the words, but I want you to think that it should be today, You, being a Christian. You see, I think it’s very clear from the state of the church today that multitudes of Christians are content with knowing more than other people, but not able to apply it. That was precisely the problem of the Jews in Paul’s day. I don’t want to go into any particular details of scandals in the church because sooner or later they’ll be out of date and there’ll be fresh scandals. But let’s face the fact: we are in the same position as the Jews of the first century. We are the ones who have the most to account for. And we’ll see that as we go on.
I’m going to read now the first sixteen verses of the second chapter of Romans. Romans 2, beginning with verse 1: "Therefore". Every time Paul says therefore, you need to prick up your ears and say, "Why does he say therefore"? Many of you have heard my little slogan, When you find a ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you need to find out what it’s there for. Well, this therefore is there because of chapter one, which has concluded that all humanity is guilty. Now we come to the people who judge others because they know more, but they’re in the same category. So that’s why the therefore is there. Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
Let me pause there and say that’s a terrible thing to be doing, isn’t it? Storing up wrath for yourself. God, who will render to every men according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.
Now, as usual, Paul is pretty intense and that takes a good deal of care to find out precisely what he is saying. Let me point out to you, first of all, which is very important, that Paul gives us here five main principles of God’s judgment and we’ll look at those first and then look at some of the other things that Paul says in that passage. The first principle of God’s judgment is found in verse 2 but I’m going to take the marginal reading, which I believe is nearer to the original. The text that I read says: the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things, but the literal text is, The judgment of God is according to truth on those who practice such things. So the first principle is that the judgment of God is according to truth. And I believe, primarily, that means it’s according to the truth of God’s Word. This is very important.
In John 17 and verse 17, "Jesus speaking to the Father, said: Thy Word is the truth" That’s tremendously important. "Thy Word (God’s Word) is the truth". I think it would be good if we would just repeat those words once together: Thy Word is the truth. Say it once more: Thy Word is the truth. So when Paul says we will be judged according to the truth, what he is saying is we will be judged according to the Word of God. And Jesus Himself said that. In John 12, verses 47 and 48, John warned the people of his day that they would one day face judgment according to the words that he had spoken to them. John 12: 47–48, Jesus is speaking: And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do no judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
So we need to bear in mind as we read the Scriptures we are already facing our judge. And that’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, we should judge ourselves that we should not be judged by God. If we read the Word of God, apply it to our lives, repent and bring our lives into line with the Word of God, we have judged ourselves. For this is the standard of divine judgment. If we do that, God will not judge us. We really have just two options, all of us. We can judge ourselves according to the Word of God and bring our lives in line with the Word of God; or we can refuse to do that, then God will have to judge us according to this Word. But one of the greatest mercies of God that He’s given us through the Bible is that He’s given us God’s standard of judgment that we might apply them to ourselves. And as Paul indicates in this particular chapter, the person to apply the standard to is not your brother, nor your neighbor, but yourself.
The second principle of God’s judgment is stated in verse 6, where Paul says: God will render to every man according to his deeds. All through the Bible, it is emphasized that God’s judgment will be based on our deeds, on our works, on what we do. We will not be judged by the claims we’ve made or even the prayers we’ve prayed, we’ll be judged by what we have actually done. If you turn to 1 Peter chapter 1. Peter emphasizes this in very clear language. 1 Peter 1 verse 17: And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work. These words are addressed to Christians, you notice. If we call God our Father, which we have the right to do as Christians, we need to bear in mind that He impartially judges according to each person’s work.
Then it says, and this is a remarkable statement, which most Christians would not be very ready to receive. It says: conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth I don’t hear that said in many places. But there is a sense in which we should live in the fear of God, knowing that one day we’re going to account to God for the lives we’ve led. And making it clear that it’s Christians he’s speaking to, Peter continues in the next verse (verse 18): knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
You see, one reason why we need to walk so softly with God is the tremendous price that He paid to redeem us: the blood of His own Son. The lifeblood of Jesus. That’s the value that God set upon us. And the more you value something, the more careful you are about that thing. And so, God has a very careful scrutiny upon the lives of each one of His redeemed children because of the price He paid to redeem us.
If you walk into a cheap store and buy a cheap piece of jewelry, you’re really not too concerned if you lose it. But if your husband (let’s suppose you have a husband and he’s generous) has bought you a really beautiful and rather costly ring, or whatever it might be My wife is smiling at me at this point. She likes this, you’re going to be very, very careful about what happens to that ring, Not merely because of its value but because of the one who gave it to you. And so Peter is saying we need to be very careful about the lives we lead because of the tremendous investment that God has made in each one of us. And he emphasizes God is going to judge us by what we do. Bear that in mind. You’re not going to be judged by your denomination, you’ll be judged by what you’ve done. You won’t be able to walk up to God and say: Well, I’m a Methodist or a Baptist. God will say, That’s not the point. The point is how have you lived?
Going back to Romans chapter 2, the third principle of judgment is stated in verse 11: there is no partiality with God. God is impartial. That word partiality doesn’t fully bring it out. The old King James says: there is no respect of persons with God, which is a better translation if you can understand it. The word person in Greek is the word face. But it means the outward appearance of a person. I don’t know whether you’ve ever read old-fashioned plays (they probably don’t do this now) but they have a list at the beginning of the Dramatis Personae the Persons of the Drama. And then they’ll tell you the various characters that are listed. That’s the meaning of the word. It’s what you are on the stage. The part you play. And Paul says God isn’t interested in the part you play. God’s interested in what you really are.
So nobody’s going to be judged because of their role in life. The general will be judged just the same way as the private in the army. The preacher will be judged just the same way as the new convert. The wealthy man will be judged just the same way as the beggar in the street. There is no looking at people’s external appearances and judging them on that basis. In the epistle of James, James rebukes the Christians of his time because he said, You make a difference between the rich man who comes in in fine clothes and the poor man who just has nothing to commend himself. You’re looking at the outward part. Peter says and James says and Paul says, God looks at what is inside.
And then the next principle of judgment is very important for us today it's implied, it’s not stated, in verse 12: For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. The way I interpret that is we will be judged according to the light that we have. If we’ve had the full light of the Law, we’ll be judged by that. But if we haven’t had that light, we will be judged by the light that we do have. And again, I have to apply this to you and me today, the countries in which we live.
I would ask you, Has there ever been a generation of Christians in the history of the church that has greater light available to it than our generation where we live. We have as many Bibles as we can afford to buy, commentaries, interpretive books, devotionals. We can go to conferences and meetings; we switch on the radio and hear a preacher. That’s wonderful. Thank God for it. Thank God for the liberty that makes it possible. But bear in mind it carries with it a tremendous responsibility. We’re going to have to answer God for the measure of light that is available to us in our day and in our generation. And I really, honestly, tremble when I think of what that entails for me, personally.
And finally, the fifth principle in verse 16: on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. When I said that God is going to judge our deeds, I didn’t merely mean the outward deeds, but He’s going to judge the motives and intentions behind those deeds. You see, two people may do something that seems outwardly the same but their motives may be quite different. Two persons might make a generous contribution to some Christian cause, one might do it out of a sincere heart of love for the Lord and His people and His work; the other might do it to impress his fellow church members. The outward act is the same, the amount is the same, but the motives are totally different.
God looks at the motive. I’d like to look at a passage there in 1 Corinthians chapter 4 verse 5. 1 Corinthians 4:5: Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. Many times we are warned against judging one another. And the particular reason given here is we don’t have all the facts. Because we only see the outward acts, but God looks on the inner thoughts and motives of the heart and God will take those into account when He judges.
Now, going back to Romans 2 for a moment. I want to deal with one other rather difficult topic. We go back to chapter 2, verse 6. God says, will render to every man according to his deeds, and then He speaks of two different kinds of people: those whom God accepts and those whom God rejects. They’re described in the next verses. He says, verse 7: those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, [God will give] eternal life. But to those who are selfishly ambitious [or self-seeking] and I think the essence of the problem is being self-centered here. I’ve noticed one thing in dealing with people, is the one conspicuous feature of people who are under the power of Satan is they’re almost invariably extremely self-centered. but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
So there’s the two kinds of people: those who by perseverance and doing good, seek for glory and honor and immortality will receive eternal life; those who are selfishly ambitious and refuse the truth of God by whatever means it may be revealed to them, but prefer unrighteousness God will give wrath and indignation. Now, I think to assess the total judgment of God is beyond the capacity of any of us, but let me point out about those who are described as receiving eternal life. There are two features: first of all, they persevere in doing good (it’s deeds); secondly, they seek for glory, honor and immortality. To me, the word seek indicates faith. They believe that God will reward them according to their response to Him and according to what they’ve done. I believe those are the two basic requirements to be accepted by God in any age or any generation. Before the gospel or during the gospel. The two basic requirements are doing good, applying what you believe; and believing. Without faith it is impossible to please God. But there are many different ways in which faith expresses itself in different ages and generations.
Now, in order to help you, I asked God to show me some example of people who didn’t come to God on the basis of the gospel but who fall into this category of persevering and doing good and seeking for God’s blessing. And I would like you to turn, just briefly, to Luke chapter 11, verse 31 and 32. Jesus is rebuking the men of His generation and He says:The Queen of the South [that’s the Queen of Sheba] shall rise up with the men of this generation at the judgment and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgment and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Now, it appears to me that those two classes of persons the Queen of Sheba and the men of Nineveh are not going to be resurrected with the resurrection of Christians because they’re going to stand up with the same resurrection with the people whom God has rejected. But they will be accepted on the basis of what they did. According to the light available to them, they responded in faith to God with their actions. So those are the two categories of people: those who, by what they do, express their faith in God; and those who reject the truth of God and prefer unrighteousness. Now, in case you should immediately start to try and work out exactly who belongs in which category, let me give you one other statement from Romans 11 with which we’ll close this study. Romans 11 verse 33. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!
So let me warn you against immediately taking the office of judge. It doesn’t belong to you There’s only one judge and that’s God. And we are specifically told that His judgments are unsearchable. You cannot search out the judgments of God. In the last resort you have to take the stand of Abraham Who said: Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? When I was a young preacher, which is a long while ago now, I used to think that I was responsible to know exactly who was going to heaven and who wasn’t. And the more I investigated, the smaller the number of people became whom I thought were going to heaven. It eventually boiled down to about 15½ and I wasn’t sure about the half. But God showed me that wasn’t my business. Thank God! So, don’t take the place of judge. It’s not ours.