All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Parents often complain that they can’t understand their children. Since when was wicked good, or drip the same as cool?
Wind back a few hundred years. Awesome meant terrifying, and awful meant great – confused? Wind back further and we find Paul writing to the Christians in Rome about a gospel of judgement. Screech of brakes and an incredulous, “What?!”
Gospel means Good News. What’s good news about judgement?
“Don’t judge me,” is another Gen-Z phrase. It’s used to defend actions like eating squirty cream straight from the can, and it makes judgement sound like a bad thing. But is it? Or have we tied its meaning into knots, like ‘uninflammable’?
Judgement is good.
I’ll say that again because It’s not a fashionable view.
Judgement is good. Not necessarily easy or pleasant (plenty of Old Testament prophets gave severe warnings about coming judgement), but Good, with a capital G.
Judgement is the application of justice. If you have been wronged, you take your case before a judge and cry for justice. You want that judgement. You want the ruling that says, yes, wrong was done and here is how it will be put right. Justice. Judgement. A fair and just judge. This is God, and God is good. Judgement is good.
But how can God judge those who have never even heard of him?
The answer is in “a law unto themselves” – another mangled phrase meaning someone who has their own version of right and wrong. But that’s the exact opposite of Paul’s meaning!
God’s right judgement of the Jews (says Paul) is based on what they know of God through the Law, and Gentiles on what God had placed in their hearts. In the end, it makes no difference, for none of us lives up to either standard. But Jesus meets the standard for God’s justice and in him alone we stand before God’s judgement seat and know ourselves accepted.
Now that’s Good News!
I hear the word ‘judgement’ and I say “Yes, let thieves and murderers be brought to book. Let those who cheat and lie be found out.” But not me, please.
I hear the word ‘justice’ and I say “Great! Wrong-doers should pay for their crimes. They should face the consequences of their actions.” But not me, please?
Lord, great is your justice and greater is your mercy, for your loving-kindness endures forever. Amen
Fay Rowland, author and lay minister in training. Christ the King, Kettering.