Today we continue Growing in Grace with Topic #2 in Romans 6:23 and Hebrews 9:27 under the title, “The Necessity of Judgment.”
USA Today described it as the “most publicized” criminal trial in American history. Also called “The Trial of the Century,” the eleven-month courtroom drama began with the swearing in of the jury on November 9, 1994. Opening statements were given on January 24, 1995, with the verdict announced on October 3, with millions and millions of people around the world watching on television as Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson was declared not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Reactions were intensely polarized, as most people I knew and those being interviewed on TV had very strong opinions concerning Simpson’s innocence or guilt.
Regardless of public opinion, the judgment had been rendered and O.J. was free.
As fascinating as it is to review that case from both legal and sociological perspectives, our focus today is not about the Trial of the Century. Our concern is the trial of all history, where you and I will sit as defendants in the courtroom of divine judgment.
As Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
Judgment in general may be defined as “an evaluation of someone’s performance when compared to an objective standard.”
We face these kinds of judgments throughout our lives.
Divine judgment is similar to these other judgments we face throughout our lives. However, the standard of evaluation is not determined by Olympic judges and the consequences are far more significant.
We discussed the standard of divine judgment at length last week, recognizing that the standard is not simply a list of rules that we keep or break, but is whether or not I have loved God and my neighbor perfectly with pure motives, seeking to bless someone else by doing good to them, even when they don’t deserve it and when it requires personal sacrifice to accomplish the blessing.
We learned that every law God has given in the Scriptures is essentially an application of this kind of active, intentional, costly, sacrificial love. When we understand the standard in this way we begin to realize just how far short we have fallen of the standard.
If I am honest and self-aware, after my moral performance in this life, I will skate off the ice severely disappointed, knowing that my score, in view of perfect love, will reflect more flaws than I am even aware.
While most people probably accept the concept of judgment as it pertains to the Olympics, to singing competitions, to courtrooms and classrooms, there are many who object to the concept of divine judgment as it pertains to judging human morality.
It may be that you are offended or tuned off by this, too. If so, you are not alone. It is fairly common in post-modern Western cultures to reject the concept of a holy God who judges humans as sinners, or transgressors of a universal, objective moral standard.
The basis of this offense is rooted in the predominant present worldview of Western culture, which in philosophical terms is called “moral relativism.”
An objective standard means something is fixed and unchanging. A speed limit of 45 means 45, not what I want it to mean. Objective alludes to a standard that is outside of oneself.
In contrast to an objective, universal moral standard, relativism appeals to a subjective personal standard—not a standard that is received from an external standard giver, such as God, but a standard that is determined by an individual’s feelings.
Consider how we might ask someone’s opinion on a contemporary issue such as immigration, the North Korean nuclear threat, capitalism vs socialism, taxation, abortion, gender identity issues or any other hot topic.
We could ask, “What do you think about ________________.” This form of the question appeals to the rational. Now, consider how the question is often asked, Not “What do you think,” but “How do you feel about ________________.” This form of the question appeals not to the rational, but to the emotional. What I want us to see is that, to answer a question that requires thought by stating your emotional reaction to the subject is a relativistic way to substitute reason with emotion, thinking with feeling.
This is not to say that the rational is superior to the emotional. As both rational and emotional creatures, we need both aspects of our humanity to function in the way God intended, with emotions revealing the desires of the heart while the mind informs, guides and sometimes corrects the desires of the heart.
It is important to note that moral standards in a relativistic culture are not fixed, but are fluid, and will change and morph over time, depending on what the majority “feels” is right or what the influencers of the culture, such as celebrities, determine are accepted moral standards.
Although moral relativism has been popularized and promoted by Hollywood, this shift in our culture did not begin in Hollywood.
This is because cultural shifts are the result of avant garde intellectual ideas that critique the status quo of a culture and propose innovative ideas for what a society should embrace as normative. These ideas often incubate in university settings and over time influence the cultural elites, who begin to slowly but surely disseminate the new worldview to the masses through popular mediums such as news media, film, television and music.
Through these popular mediums, moral relativism has a three-word mantra: follow your heart.
Who knew that the original Star Wars would so effectively push this mantra down the field with Obe Wan Kenobi instructing young Luke Skywalker to just “trust your feelings.” Practically every popular song, TV drama, and Disney movie since (and I love Disney!) has reinforced the follow your heart, trust your feelings worldview.
Think of Western culture as a frog in a kettle. How do you boil a live frog in a kettle of water without it hopping out? You turn the temperature up little by little by little. At the frog acclimates as the water gets hotter and hotter, he doesn’t realize just how hot the water is, until it boils and eventually he is cooked.
To those cooked in the kettle of moral relativism, to say that we should not follow our hearts sounds like heresy. If not our hearts, then what are we to follow?
The better question is, “Whom are we to follow?” Our options are to follow the Spirit of the Age or the Spirit of God.
The Spirit of the Age tells me to follow my heart, which I know theologically, is morally corrupt and deceptive. There can be no more foolish thing in the world than for me to follow my heart if that heart is not consciously following Jesus.
Now, when someone becomes a follower of Jesus, we are given a new heart with which we are to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But how does he lead us? He leads us primarily through the Scriptures with objective truth, not by our subjective feelings.
Here is the point. If my feelings are leading me down a road that is in clear conflict with the revealed, objective standard of God’s word, then I am not being led by the Holy Spirit. I am being deceived by my sin nature, what we call the flesh. At that point, for me to say that I am merely following my heart is to defy God’s word and grieve the Spirit.
This gets to the heart of why Western culture is offended by divine judgment. If God is the standard giver, this means that I do not get to define my own standard—for any area of my life. Even though we are judged in countless ways that we tend to accept, the idea that my personal freedom of moral and lifestyle choice can be evaluated and objectively judged by an external entity is infuriating to moral relativism.
Nevertheless, God is the judge and whether I like it or not, he will hold me accountable when I sit as a defendant in the courtroom of divine justice.
As Hebrews 9:27 states, “It is appointed for man to die once, after that comes judgment.”
Speaking of courtrooms…
We can imagine a criminal trial where all the evidence points toward a slam dunk guilty verdict. In our imaginary scenario, there is no doubt the defendant is guilty. Yet the judge decides to let him go. Instead of a guilty verdict he pronounces the defendant not guilty. The offender is promptly set free and is forgiven of all charges.
How would we react?
For most of us, our sensibilities of justice would be outraged. This is not fair, especially to those who were injured by the defendant’s criminal actions! We would demand that the judge be removed from the bench for such a travesty of justice.
We want the guilty punished and the innocent acquitted.
We do not want the guilty acquitted. We demand fairness. People should get what they deserve.
Paul speaks to what we deserve in Romans 6:23, when he says, “The wages of sin is death.”
When someone holds a job, they expect to get paid for their work. We expect to get what we deserve. The problem is that in the courtroom of divine justice, our work is found to be intrinsically sinful. The sentence that is deserved is death—a type of death that the bible calls hell.
Yet there is good news, for the second half of verse 23 speaks not of the justice we deserve but of the grace God provides. Paul calls this grace “the gift of God.” This gift is precisely the opposite of what is deserved, which is why he uses the contrasting word, “but.” We deserve this, but because of Jesus we get something else.
Rather than eternal death we are granted eternal life, which is not merely a statement of existence but refers to the quality of that existence where we read in Psalm 16:11, “In the presence of God is the fullness of joy.”
This is the shocking reality of divine judgment. While what I deserve in judgment is the fullness of divine wrath, through the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ I am, unexpectedly, offered the gospel—the priceless gift of God that leads to the fullness of divine joy.
What we learn in the gospel is that Jesus endured the judgment I deserved by serving the death sentence the law demands.
This is what the cross is all about and is why Hebrews 9:27 is followed by verse 28. Let’s read them together starting in verse 27, “27It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
For those of us who are offended by judicial forgiveness, what we see in the gospel is not a travesty of justice but the fulfillment of justice. God does not turn a blind eye to sin nor does he fail to enact the justice that sin deserves. As verse 28 says, Jesus was sent “to bear the sins of many” in order to “deal with sin.” The theological term for this is propitiation. To make propitiation for someone is “to satisfy the demands of justice by absorbing the just wrath of the law.”
Simply put, as a propitiation for sin, Jesus was crucified so that I can be justified.
As Paul writes in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ.”
As some of you know, for the past 10 years my wife, Kristy, has been part of a uniquely gospel-centered ministry to church planting wives called Parakaleo. For the first nine years, she was one of the wives being ministered to. This past year she was asked to be the Atlanta area director for the ministry—the one who invests in and ministers to other church planting wives.
At each of their monthly gatherings, Kristy disciples these wives with a variety of practical “gospel tools” which are intended to help the women personally live out the implications of God’s grace to them.
One of the tools Kristy received early on when she was a disciplee church planting wife was not a tool as much as an object.
Inscribed on that gavel is a short phrase. In view of today’s topic, this phrase is one that I need remember and you need to remember every day.
What does the gavel say? It says, “The verdict is in!”
The verdict is Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no more condemnation [no more fear of judgment] for those who are in Christ.”
The only qualifying phrase for living in view of this good news of divine declaration is found in the final six words of verse 1, “For those who are in Christ.” To be “in Christ” is like Noah and his family being “in the ark” when judgment came upon the earth in the form of a flood. They were safe. Secure. Protected.
It is the same way for those of us who, in view of impending judgment, look in faith to Jesus as our sin bearer, trusting that through the cross, Jesus has dealt with the penalty our sin deserves once and for all.
He has been judged and we have been given a gavel that reads “the verdict is in” – there is no more condemnation for those who are in Jesus.
 While there are some in the academic world who would prefer to do away with a grading system that compares students against an objective standard, I believe it is still mainstream to view grading as a helpful way to evaluate a student’s progress. Furthermore, when we speak of judgment in terms of Olympic scores and evaluating singing competitions, most people recognize the necessity of these judgements.
 If you study the history of philosophy, you will notice a trend. Cultures tend to swing back and forth between the objective and the subjective, or the relative. For example, the 17th century scientific revolution birthed the Enlightenment of the 18th century, which is also called the Age of Reason. Philosophers were big on the objective, even though they no longer valued objectivity for the same reason that history previously had valued objective truth. Not longer was God considered the source of truth. Man was measure who would serve as the judge and jury of moral truth. Following an emphasis on the rational in the 18th century, Western culture, especially in Europe, took a radical shift in the other direction in the early 19th century with Romanticism, which largely was a philosophical reaction to rationalism. Guess what took place next? In the second half of the 19th century, the predominant worldview swung back to what is called Realism, which was a reaction to the subjectivity and “feeliness” of romanticism. By the time we arrive in late 20th century, moral relativism, which in many ways is neo-romanticism, is birthed through the rise of intellectual, existential philosophers, who had grown skeptical of modernism in the wake of two devastating world wars.