February 2 & 3, 2019 – Epiphany 4
Romans 10: 18-11: 6
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Would a loving God really punish anyone? Would a loving God really send people to hell? What about all the good and peaceful people of the world? Will they go to hell? What about those who never had a chance to hear the Word of God? Will they go to hell? How do we know that we will be in heaven and others won’t?
Have you ever wondered about questions like that? I know some of you have because we’ve just discussed some of those questions in our Wednesday night Bible class where we are studying the book of Romans. Our sermon text for today helps us answer those questions. In particular, it helps us to understand salvation better and leads us to see a marvelous truth: We Are Chosen By Amazing Grace.
These are important questions we are asking today because they are a matter of life and death—eternal life and death. Thus, we must start to answer these questions by asking the most basic question of all: “How does one get to heaven?” God is very clear about that. In Leviticus he commands, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The simplest and most basic of commands is that we need to be just like God. God doesn’t just tell us to try to be holy or to think about holiness. God says, “Be holy.”
Jesus reinforces that command in the New Testament when he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a summary of everything that God demands. If you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind then you will be keeping all the 10 Commandments. Then you will have no other gods, you will not take his name in vain, and you will remember the Sabbath day. Also, if you completely love God and love your neighbor as yourself, then you will be keeping the other commandments. You will not murder, commit adultery, steal, etc. So there’s the first simple answer to our questions today. How do you get to heaven? Live perfectly and love God and others perfectly.
How do you match up? Remember that if you answer by saying, “Oh I’ve done pretty well,” or “I’ve done alright. I’m not that bad,” that’s not good enough. God said to be perfect. Of if you say, “Well I am a really loving person. I love pretty much everyone . . . accept for that neighbor that lets his dog relieve himself on my lawn,” that’s not good enough either. God said to love him and love everyone perfectly.
What is more, we might look at some of the basic commands of God and think we do pretty well. “You shall not murder? Check! Got that one!” Yet God tells us that anyone who hates is a murderer. “You shall not commit adultery? I’m good there.” But Jesus says that anyone who even looks lustfully has already committed adultery. It’s not just our physical actions that count before God, but our thoughts and our attitudes as well.
Think about it this way: If you went to church every single week and never missed and if you attended every single Bible study that Calvary offers and if you read your Bible for 30 minutes and prayed for 30 minutes every single day, your “God time” for the week would be about 10 hours. But 10 hours is still less than 6% of your week’s time. Less than 6% for a God who demands all your heart, soul, and mind? What happens to your “God time” if you don’t go to church every week or you don’t read your Bible every day or if you don’t pray every day?
Not one of us has met God’s standard. Not one of us has perfectly loved God. Not one of us has perfectly loved others. Not one of us is holy. That goes for everyone in the world. As Psalms tells us, “There is no one who does good. There is not even one.” As we’re told in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Next let’s look at the consequences. God tells us that the reward for being holy and for loving perfectly is eternal life in heaven. We just found that no one can do that. Every person in the world is a sinner. So what are the consequences for that then? Again, God is very clear. He says in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” What are the consequences for being a sinner? Death. Not just physical death though that’s one result of being imperfect. But the ultimate result is eternal death, or hell. Our sins separate us from God. It is impossible for unholy, unrighteous, and imperfect people to dwell with and be around a holy, righteous, and perfect God. And as a holy, righteous, and perfect God, it is also impossible for him not to be a perfect judge who punishes all sin and all sinners.
Thus, many of the questions asked at the beginning are actually irrelevant. Would a loving God actually punish people? Yes, because our loving God is also a holy and perfect God. Would God really send people to hell? Yes, because he told us how to get to heaven, but we haven’t done it. Would God really punish “good people” of the world? Yes, because technically there are no good people. All people are sinners. What about those who never heard the word and live in the far corners of the world? It doesn’t matter. They are sinners who disobeyed too. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin for all of us is death.
That’s scary news for all of us. We all are lost without any hope. We all have no chance of getting to heaven on our own because we haven’t kept God’s demands on our own. Yet that is why God’s Word is so wonderful. While it tells us of our sin, it also tells us of God’s grace. Grace is a word that simply means “undeserved love.” Showing undeserved love as God does means to show love without any regard for who we are or what we have done. It means to love us in spite of our wrongs and in spite of our sins.
That is grace, and God’s grace is amazing. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” That is truly amazing. God loved the world. God loved a world full of people who lie, cheat, and steal. God loved a world full of people who hate, gossip, and slander. God loved a world full of people who take his name in vain, who don’t put him first in their hearts, who would sometimes rather worship their pillow than their God. God loved a world full of people who doubt him, who question him, who deny him. He loved this world so much that he gave his Son.
Yet he did more than just give his Son, he sent him to death. God sent his Son Jesus to carry your sin. Every sin you did—including the really, really bad things—everything was put onto him. While on the cross, he suffered for them. He suffered death. God says, “The wages of sin is [eternal] death.” Jesus endured that too. He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God had abandoned his Son. God made Jesus to suffer the hell that you deserve. God gave his Son to die. He is the payment for your sin. He is the fulfillment of your punishment. What have you done to deserve that? Absolutely nothing. But still God says, “Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” That is grace!
Understanding those fundamental truths of Scripture helps us better understand our text for today. Paul was writing to Roman Christians and answering some of the same questions stated at the beginning. For example, why would some be saved and not others? Why would the Gentiles (non-Jew) be saved and not the Jews? Knowing better the background truths just covered, listen to Paul’s words: “But I ask, did they [the Jews] not hear? Of course, they certainly did. The sound of their voice went out to all the earth, and their words to the farthest parts of the world.” The problem was not hearing the message. God continually sent prophets to speak his Word to them. Similarly, nearly every country in the world has had a missionary attempt to spread the Word in it. TV, radio, and internet cover the rest of the world with God’s Word. So the problem is not for lack of hearing the message.
Paul continues in 19, “Yet I ask, did Israel not understand? First, Moses says: I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; I will make you angry with a nation that does not understand. And Isaiah also boldly says: I was found by those who were not looking for me; I became well known to those who were not asking for me. But about Israel he says: All day long I stretched out my hands to a people who disobey and oppose me.” All three quotations touch on the same point. It wasn’t God’s fault Israel rejected him. He sent his prophets. He gave them his Word and revealed himself to them. But yet they were hardened and obstinate. So God chose to go to other nations, the Gentiles, to make them jealous. (And they sure were. We hear quite a bit in the Bible about the Jews trying to kill the first Christians.) He summarizes in the next paragraph: “So I say, did God reject his people? Absolutely not!” Paul then continues to explain how Elijah the prophet thought he was the only believer left, yet God said there were over 7,000 in the land he chose to belong to him. Paul also states that he himself was an Israelite that God had chosen to be his own.
The point he is making is the answer to the questions, “Who goes to hell and why?” The answer is: Those who reject Jesus. God doesn’t force people to reject him. In fact, the Bible tells us that God wants all to be saved. He gave his Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish. The gift is there for all. Jesus died for all. Jesus has been revealed in this world. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses know about Jesus, yet they reject him as God and Savior. Muslims know about Jesus, yet they view him as only a good man and a prophet and far inferior to Mohammed. I would guess it safe to say that everyone on this west side of the planet has heard about Jesus recently, yet so many reject him as Savior. Thus, in their sin and by their own choice, hell is what awaits.
So how is it that we are saved? Why us? Why are we going to heaven? Why are we so fortunate as to know Jesus as our Savior? Look at the last two sentences: “So in the same way at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. Now if it is by grace, then it is not the result of works—otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Why are we saved? Why is it that God has led us to know that we cannot save ourselves by our own works because we are sinners? Why is it that God has led us to believe that Jesus is our free and full Savior from those sins? God has chosen us by grace. God sent his Son—that’s grace. Christ saved us from sin—that’s grace. God has led us to believe in him as Savior—that’s grace. Heaven is our free gift—that’s grace. Rather than question whether God can send anyone to hell, marvel that God has chosen you to be his own. Marvel that he made you a part of his family. What amazing grace God has shown to you. Now go and live for him. Amen.