Rewarded according to our works? (part 3)

In Romans 2:7 God gives us eternal life for our “persistence in doing good.” But how do you square that with Romans 3:12 which says “there is no one who does good,” and in verse 23 that we all “fall short of the glory of God”? According to those last two verses, it doesn’t matter how hard we persist in doing good, or how hard we try to obey God and act unselfishly, we’ll never actually be good, or ever be good enough.

So why did Paul say what he did in Romans 2:7, and even embellish it in verse 10, when he writes, “Glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good”? Because the Jews he was writing to had been brought up to believe it was true. All Jews were taught that if they obeyed God’s Law they’d be rewarded handsomely. That was the Old Testament message, and Jesus himself backed it up too, in Matthew 19:17, when a young man asked him “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” and Jesus replied, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

So that’s what all good Jews did, they obeyed the commandments, believing their works would be rewarded with eternal life  The only problem was, their works stank! In Romans 2 they were condemning other people for actions that they themselves were doing (verses 1-4) and they were stubborn and unrepentant (verse 5). Paul has to remind them that just because they’re Jews, God doesn’t play favourites (verse 11). A Jew couldn’t claim right of birth as one of “God’s chosen ones” to excuse bad behaviour. He was under the same gun the Gentiles were: If you want eternal life, do good.

For the Jews that meant obeying the law perfectly (verses 12-13). For Gentiles it meant obeying their conscience (verses 14-15), and nothing gets by God; he sees all (verse 16). On the positive side, if a person had persistently done good, God would have noticed it, and if a Jew had obeyed the law perfectly, God would have rewarded him with eternal life. Unfortunately, “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin,” Romans 3:9. Nobody in the history of humanity has been good enough, or obedient enough, for eternal life. But if he had been, eternal life would have been his. The principle still stands as true as it ever was, that God rewards us according to our works, exactly as Paul says in Romans 2:7.

But the problem with being rewarded for our works is Romans 3:10, “There is none righteous, not even one.” We don’t have it in us to be righteous enough or good enough for God to give us eternal life. That’s why the gospel was never about our righteousness….(continued in Part 4)

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