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Sermon Resources

Guilty, guilty, guilty



Main Scriptures
Series: Romans
Book: Romans
Scripture References

GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY (rom 2:12-24)

We are currently starting to work our way through the book of Romans, but to understand the opening chapters of Romans, you need to relate it to the opening chapters of the Bible. To understand how the gospel is God’s solution to the problem, you need to first understand the problem.

Read Gen 1:24-31

·      In the beginning, God revealed Himself in creation. Vs 25 God saw all that He had made and it was good, it reflected His character, it showed His glory.

·      God also revealed Himself in humankind who according to vs 26 was uniquely made in His image, created to reflect His character and show His glory.

·      God also revealed Himself in laws or rules or commands which reflected His character and told mankind how they were to glorify God by doing His will in His creation.

In the fall that happened in Gen 3, the law of God is subverted, the image of God in man is perverted and the whole of creation is corrupted. And all of a sudden, God is no longer clearly seen and known and understood in creation and in humanity and in His law. The signature of God is still there, but it starts getting crowded out by sin and His blessing is replaced by His curse.

That is where Paul begins His gospel presentation in the letter to the Romans, by presenting the curse of God upon man who has turned his back

·      on glorifying God through creation (Rom 1),

·      who has turned his back on glorifying God through the law (Rom 2)

·      and turned his back on glorifying God through their lives  (Rom 3).

Or to put it another way – they are guilty, guilty, guilty. That’s where Paul begins His gospel presentation – with human guilt before God, human sin, and the condemnation it deserves. It’s not a pleasant place to begin, it’s not going to make anyone feel good about themselves, but we have to fully embrace our guilt before we can fully embrace God’s grace in Christ.

So I’ve called this message: Guilty, guilty, guilty. We will be looking at Rom 2:12-24 and in terms of the flow of the argument, it is focusing on our guilt under the law or according to the law.

Read Rom 2:12-24



·      Rom 1:15 I am eager to preach the gospel at Rom. 1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel because it carries God’s power for salvation fore everyone, both Jew and Gentile.

·      1:18 Because God’s wrath is already been revealed, His curse is already being felt, His righteous anger is already being expressed against the sin of men.

·      1:19-20 They knew God exists from creation, but instead of worshipping Him they resist the truth and worship His creation. Then follows this description of all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men which ends in a conclusion in 1:32. Those who do these things deserve to be punished but they do them anyway. Those who should have known and worshipped God as He is revealed in creation are guilty (Rom 1).

·      Rom 2:1-3. Before you point your finger at those idolaters out there – realize that you too are guilty of the same things and deserving of God’s judgment. God is not going to give you any special treatment.

·      Rom2:6, 11: Everyone will get exactly what they deserve because God is a righteous judge.

·      Now he is going to focus on people’s guilty before the law or according to the law. Those who should have known and worshipped God as revealed in the law are guilty (Rom 2)

1: Guilty according to conscience (2:12-16)

2: Guilty according to Moses (2:17-24)



1: Guilty according to conscience (2:12-16)

Mosaic Law

The term law can be used in different ways, but here in context it is being used as a synonym for the Mosaic law or Old Covenant Law. After delivering them from bondage in Egypt, God entered into a covenant relationship with Israel and He gave them the Law and the 10 commandments through Moses which defined for them how they were to live out their special relationship with God.

The other nations didn’t enter into this unique relationship with God and didn’t personally and specifically receive this law.

So are they still guilty according to the Law? How can they be called law breakers and how can God be just in condemning and punishing them if they didn’t have the Law which Israel received though Moses?

This is the question to which Paul is going to apply himself.

Perish without the law (12)

12: Those who are without the law still sin, they still miss the mark, they still fall short of the standard that God requires of a perfectly righteous life. All those who haven’t specifically and personally received the law and yet sin according to that law will perish. The word he uses here for “perish” refers to eternal death and punishment.

·      1 Cor 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

·      2 Cor 4:3 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ”

You can see how it is placed in parallel with those who are judged guilty under the law and are thus condemned.

But if they haven’t even received the law, how can they be guilty of breaking it?

1)      its not a question of knowing, but doing (13)

The first thing we must realize is that its not a question of hearing, or knowing but of doing. If you do, what is contrary to the law, you are a law breaker, irrespective of what you know. That applies to both the Jews who knew the Law and the Gentiles who didn’t.

A Jew might know the law, but God doesn’t judge based on what we know, but on what we do. Do we obey the law or break the law. A Gentile might not know the Law, but God doesn’t judge based on what we do or don’t know, but on the basis of what we do.

Even in our human legal system, ignorance can’t be used as an excuse to avoid the penalty of breaking the law.

Only those who fully obey or fulfill the law will be considered right or justified in God’s sight.

But that’s not Paul’s only point.

2)      The Gentile know the Law (14)

14: He goes on to say that the law has been written on the hearts of Gentiles so that at least in general terms, they inherently know what is right and wrong, or as vs 14 puts it, “they by nature do what the law requires.”

Theologians call this “natural law” or the “moral law”. It is the law of God which has been stamped into the DNA of man because we have been created in God’s image.

See the Law of God is not something external to God, as if God were bound to certain rules or principles which stood outside of Him and over Him. He is not bound to any other rule or authority, but He is always bound to be true to who He is. The law of God is something which arises from His very nature. The principles by which God governs the universe are an expression of who He is. God never changes and He always acts in conformity with who He is, so His law doesn’t change. They might find different practical expressions at different times and in different contexts, but the underlying principles remain the same.

So Paul can say, although the Gentiles never specifically and personally received the Law of Moses like the Jews, never the less, the same principles are written into their very nature as beings created in God’s image, so that they become the law of God for themselves. That nature and that law has been corrupted and twisted, but not entirely. The working principles of the law are still operational in their hearts, which is why they are sometimes prosecuted or acquitted by their own conscience.

Conscience (15)

The conscience here is that inner voice which evaluates our actions and tells us whether we have done right or wrong. It produces inner turmoil and guilt and shame when we have done wrong and it produces vindication and justification when we have done right.

2:15 Conscience is the inner judge which judges our actions and either finds us guilty or innocent. The standard by which a person’s own conscience judges them is the Law which has been written into our nature. Which is why conscience operates even among those who have not heard or receive any specific revelation from God.

·      When speaking about the general revelation of God that is available to all in creation – Paul could say in 1:19 “What can be known about God is plain because God has shown it to them.” He could say in vs 21 “That they are without excuse for although they knew God they did not honour Him as God.” So their problem was not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of willingness to act in accordance with that knowledge.

·      Now when He comes to the more specific revelation of God through His law, He can again say – they have no excuse because the law has been written on their hearts and their own conscience bears witness that they are guilty.

·      This point hardly needs to be proved, it is as self-evident as the revelation of God in creation. There is a moral fabric to every society and the major threads of that fabric are the same in just about every culture and context. Even modern existentialists who try to deny absolute truth, find themselves unable to explain why people all over agree that murder and lying and rape are wrong

·      It’s possible to silence conscience, to sear conscience, to corrupt conscience, to ignore conscience, but not to completely kill it and our conscience bears witness that we are law-breakers. We don’t even live according to our own standards of right and wrong.

illustration - children

·      Any parent will tell you that we never had to teach our children to sin. We never had to give them special classes in how to throw a tantrum, how to be selfish and arrogant. We didn’t enrole them in a class called the grammar and syntax of profound cussing. That just came naturally out of their  fallen natures.

·      Neither did we have to teach them that those things were wrong… and to cover them up with lying and excuses and blame shifting. Maybe you’ve never thought about this before parents, but our children don’t learn everything about sin and everything about what is right and wrong from us and other people – some of that is written into their DNA.

·      You just need to walk into a room sometimes and you can know something has been going on by the look of guilt and shame that is written on their faces….and the excuses immediately start flowing and you don’t even know what they’ve done yet….

·      Sometimes our kids have gotten away with sin and nobody knows and then a few hours, or days, or even weeks later they come to us confessing what they have done because they can’t live with that voice of conscience that is shouting at them – you are guilty, you need to own up, you need to make right.

·      So much of human behaviour is a reaction to a guilty conscience – trying to excuse it, or silence it, or appease it.

Application: Inform Conscience

Like every other part of our nature, conscience has been corrupted so it’s not always rightly informed and it can make us feel guilty for things that are not wrong, or acquit us even while we are sinning. So part of sanctification is all about, is recalibrating the conscience. So we can hold up this external, objective

e, revealed law against the inner law and show our conscience where its operating according to the wrong rules. Like a lawyer, we can call our conscience to judge according to what the law actually says – but like a lawyer, we dare not just overrule the judge and his decisions.

·      Paul could say in Ats 24:16 “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.”  We should be striving to live with a clear conscience and where our conscience is convicting us, we need to either change our behaviour, or study the Scriptures so that our conscience can form more biblical convictions.

·      In matters of conscience we should allow others to operate according to their convictions and not condemn them, neither should we tempt them to go against conscience.


As Paul seeks to apply the principles of Rom 2 later on in the letter in Rom 14, we see that conscience is too often the missing middle between legalism and license as we seek to faithfully apply God’s Law to our context.

So to bring us back to the argument in Rom 2. Paul is answering the objection – what about those who have never received the special revelation of God in His law – how can they be regarded as guilty?

1: It’s not a matter of what we know, but what we do 2: They have the moral law or natural law written into the DNA and their own conscience confirms that they are guilty as law-breakers

3)      God will judge the heart (16)

16: The all seeing, all knowing God knows all things, even the hidden things in the heart of man. Though people may plead innocence or ignorance, God knows and they know the precepts of the law which God wrote on their hearts and how many times their own conscience has born witness that they are law breakers who deserve to be judged guilty.

Even though someone might appear to be living lawfully or righteously by the external standards of an objective observer – God knows the hearts, God knows and sees what men are unable to see.

The Sermon on the mount

That is what Jesus was getting at in the sermon on the mount in Matt 5-7. You have heard is said, though shalt not commit adultery, but I say to you, whoever looks lustfully at a women has already committed adultery in his heart. “You’ve heard it said, though shalt not murder, and whoever murders is liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council, whoever says “you fool” will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt 5:21-22)

You can see what Jesus is getting at – God judges not merely by externals, by what men see and hear, but whether we have obeyed the law from our hearts. It’s not just about whether you’ve actually murdered another person, but also whether you’ve hated and been angry with and cursed them – which also makes you a lawbreaker even though nobody else can see it yet.

The Gentiles who didn’t receive the Law of Moses are still law breakers because God judges by what we do and what we do is not right, even by the standards of our own conscience. Then he moves on to those who do have the law. Again, he doesn’t want to leave the Jews standing over to one side feeling smug about themselves and missing how much they need Christ too.

2: Guilty according to Moses (2:17-24)

The value of the law (17-20)

But on the other hand, if you have received the Law, you are greatly privileged.

·      You can boast that you know God and His character and ways

·      You can rely on the law to guide you into what is right, to instruct you in the right way

·      You know His will and can approve what is excellent and pure and pleasing to God because the Law has instructed you, it has taught you about God.

·      So you have not only been taught by the law, but you’ve been able to become a teacher of God’s law, a teacher to those who are foolish and blind and ignorant and like children, vulnerable.

·      VS 20 you have the knowledge and the truth.

The privileges of law

It is worth just reflecting here on the value and benefits of the Law. The law as Paul presents it here is not just a great body of rules which is supposed to burden us and weigh us down and rob us of all freedom and joy.

The law becomes that to sinners who don’t want to trust in God and submit to God and who think they know better.

The law here is a medium of revelation to give us light and guidance and instruction and knowledge. It reveals God’s character and guides us in God’s ways and leads us to all that is good. You can hear the words of Ps 19 echoing here….

Read PS 19:7-11

·      The law is perfect, sure, right, true, altogether righteous and infinitely valuable and supremely satisfying.

·      What is its effect on the inner man? It revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes.

·      Is that your view of God’s Laws? Is that how your heart feels about God’s rules? Or are they a burden to you, and constraining and undesirable, and distasteful?


Yet you can also hear the arrogance that Paul is picking up on here in the tone of this description. The sense of privilege and prominence and priority that having this law can bring. The tendency to puff myself up and look down on others because of what I have been given and what I know.

There is a kind of knowledge Paul could say in 1 Cor 8:1 “that puffs up” rather than builds up. The Jews had become puffed up by all that they know.

Application: Living it out?

And sometimes in Reformed, doctrinally conservative circles we can be the same. We can be impressed with how much we know the Bible and how adept we are at studying it and how well we can teach and how many books we have read…..but are we living it out?

Knowing and Not doing (21-24)

Paul can go on to say – unfortunately you know, but you do not do. You can tell everyone what is right, but you yourself don’t do what is right.

Vs 23 You who claim to know God and honour God, are actually dishonouring Him by your actions. He can then quote from Is 52:5 as proof of His point – God’s name is reviled among the Gentiles because of Israel’s failure to obey God.

In fact, Israel’s history was a testimony against them – they had gone into exile and were living under Roman domination because of their failure to live according to God’s Law. Like the Gentiles, they had already experienced the first fruits of God’s wrath against sin.


Let’s stop for a moment and reflect on how Paul begins presenting the gospel, the good news. By first confronting us with the bad news, the problem. 3 chapters are devoted to driving home the reality that we are


Guilty, guilty, Guilty – that’s the title of this sermon and the message of this text. Guilty according to conscience, guilty according to Moses. Guilty before God.

This is the conclusion that Paul is heading toward in His argument – Rom 3:19-20.

·      The Law doesn’t justify it condemns,

·      The Law doesn’t help us live God’s way, it shows us how far we are falling short.

·      When we stand before God as the righteous judge, the law and the conscience will stand as key witnesses giving irrefutable evidence against us that we are guilty as charged.

And those who are guilty deserve to be punished – those who are law-breakers, must be judged guilty and sentenced to the punishment that the law demands.

·      1: 18; 1:32, 2:1,5, 2:12, 2:16, 2:27, 3:5-6, 3:9 – we are all, without exception, guilty as charged and deserving of wrath. We are not right, or righteous according to the law, but guilty under that law.

·      Rom 3:21-26. The gospel provides a righteousness that doesn’t come through our obedience to the law, but through our faith in Christ who perfectly obeyed the law.

·      The gospel provides a man in whom God’s righteousness is satisfied, God’s wrath is averted and God’s justice is upheld. A way for us to be justified as a gift rather than a reward. A way to be brought into right standing with God by our confidence in the life and death of Jesus rather than by confidence in our own performance.

·      Paul spends so much time discussing sin because it’s the dark backdrop against which the gospel shines more gloriously.


Let’s stop trying to justify and excuse and minimize our sin. Let’s own our sin in all its ugliness – so that we can lay hold of the gospel in all its glory.

Let’s stop trying to give people a gospel that addresses some other problem – the problem of poverty, or sickness or racism, or unhappiness – rather than the problem of sin and the wrath of God it incites.

As Christians, let’s stop applying the gospel to those other problems and lets start applying it to our sin problems….

As a shepherd, I do a fair amount of counseling and I would say that in almost every case, the main problem behind all the other problems is that people don’t want to own their own sin. They might be forced to admit that they are not perfect, but in their hearts they have found a way to justify and minimize their own sin and blame their spouse and excuse themselves and point the finger at others and paint themselves as the helpless victim. Unless I can get them to own their own sin, I can’t help them. Because there is no sure and certain solution for my spouse, or for poverty, or for sickness or for my circumstances, but the gospel provides and unshakeable hope for sinners. When my own sin is my main problem – then I can lay hold of God’s all sufficient solution in Jesus Christ!