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May 13, 2012
The Righteousness of God
For I am not ashamed of the gospel,for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Roman 1:16-18).
The righteousness of God is seen in the provisions of the gospel to save everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). However, God’s righteousness can be seen in all his actions. Paul also begins a long discussion having to do with the condemnation of the Gentile world; this shows God’s wrath (Romans 1:18). Before the discussion closes, we are told that these people could have been saved without the Law of Moses had they done what was right: “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, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:14-16). Both of these things—salvation and condemnation—show the righteousness of God. Both actions, then and now, are the right thing to do.
It was a righteous thing for God to punish the majority of the people of the world, when after repeated warnings they engaged in unrighteousness. This is an established truth of the New Testament, too: “This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you …” (2Thessalonians 1:5-10). Still, many people think that God should have excused these people of long ago because God gave the Law to the Israelites only. The fallacy of this is a failure to observe that the Gentile world, all along, had opportunity to know what was right even though they did not have the Law of Moses given to them.
Everyone from Adam to Noah had opportunity to know of God. If you add up the years given in Scripture, you will find that Lamech, the father of Noah, had to have been born before Adam died. Every one of these generations between Adam and Noah should have been able to know of God by virtue of their association and nearness to Adam. True, these people were not the ones discussed directly in our text of Romans, but it is noteworthy that the people who lived at the time of the flood had no excuse. They could have known the right things to do.
Beginning with Noah, all men did know God. There was a new beginning with Noah and his family who had been saved in the ark. Subsequent generations, all the way down to Abraham, could have and should have known of God as all were one people, all descendants of Noah. Some did. Others went into idolatry. Abraham knew of God and apparently his father, Terah, before him (Genesis 11:31; 12:1-3).
Beginning with Abraham, we find the people who are described in Romans 1 and 2. God called Abraham out from the rest of the people and promised to bless all nations in him: “… And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). Out of Abraham came the Israelite nation. God knew that Abraham was the kind of a person who would send his message on to subsequent generations (Genesis 18:19). Abraham testified of God unto others (Genesis 14:22).
Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, became the father of the Arab world. Ishmael knew of God. His people had opportunity to know. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was a righteous man who knew of God. He became the father of the Ammonites and the Moabites (Genesis 19:38). This great section of the Gentile world had reason to know of God. Because of Sarah, the king of Gerar learned of God. God spake to him. So, this other segment of the Gentile world had reason to know of God and what pleased him (Genesis 20:3,4).
The knowledge of God spread. Through Jacob’s brother Esau, the Edomites had opportunity to know of God (Genesis 36:1). Through Joseph the Egyptians had ample reason to know of God and of what pleased him (Genesis 41:37-39). People of Jericho, like Rahab, knew of God and desired to please him (Joshua 2:9-11). During the long period of the Judges, there was great opportunity again and again for the Gentiles to know of the God of the heavens.
As time progressed, the Gentile nations again and again learned of the God of the Israelites. At times, God made special effort to inform the Gentiles (Jonah 1:1,2). We even have record of God directly giving a message to Pharaoh Neco of Egypt: “But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, ‘What have we to do with each other, O King of Judah? I am not coming against you today but against the house with which I am at war, and God has ordered me to hurry. Stop for your own sake from interfering with God who is with me, so that He will not destroy you.’” (2Chronicles 35:21). In later years, Gentile nations knew of God through the captives (Daniel 2:44; 2Chronicles 36:23). Remember the magi from the East who knew of the birth of the Messiah?
People act carelessly or ignorantly when they talk about the poor Gentiles not having a chance and that it was not fair for God to condemn these people because of their sins. It ought not to be any surprise to find that God was willing to save any of these Gentiles who, without the Law, did the things which were contained in the law (Romans 2:14-16).
We are blessed with the expanded message of salvation which neither Jew nor Gentile had to begin with (Romans 1:16).
If it was righteous for God to condemn those of this time in the past, is it not even more necessary for God to condemn those who reject His gospel now? Have you obeyed this gospel that is the power to save for everyone (Romans 6:17,18)? Have you truly thought about the righteousness of God?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.