I am often asked, “What about those who die having never heard of Christ? What happens to them?” Scripture is clear—all people, to the degree they have light—are responsible for the light they have and the deeds they do. They have no excuse for their sin (Rom.1:18-25). God has given a witness of conscience in them and a witness of creation to them—yet they reject that light and turn to darkness. For the willful sin against God, every soul will give an account.
But that’s not likely an issue for anyone reading these words. Most, if not all, of you have heard the Gospel—and that over and over. So, Paul says to the self-righteous in Romans 2:1 that we also have no excuse.
Are you hardening your heart? Do you believe that your goodness apart from Christ can save you? Will you continue to trust in your morality and lean on your religiosity? Here is Paul’s somber warning to the self-righteous: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’ ” (Rom.2:5-6). You really don’t want to be tried for your deeds!
What does Paul mean by “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath”? R.C. Sproul in his commentary on Romans gives a chilling exposition:
“What comes next is one of the scariest verses in the Bible…A friend once said to me, ‘I have been lusting after a woman, so I might as well go ahead and get on with the act because I am already guilty of the sin.’ I warned my friend to be very careful there. We have a tendency to think that come the judgment day, we are either in or out, innocent or guilty, but when somebody commits nine murders, they go on trial for nine counts of murder, not just one. Just so, God considers every sin we commit in thought, word and deed. Each one is exposed to God’s perfect judgment according to the truth.
In explaining our sin in relation to God’s wrath, Paul uses a banking metaphor. If we begin to save our money, taking a small portion of each paycheck and putting it in the bank, we are building up, slowly but surely, a treasure; we are saving up for a rainy day. Just so, every time we sin, we add an indictment against ourselves, treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. Do we really believe that? I do not think that the world believes it. Every day that we sin without repenting, we are depositing future wrath into the account of God’s judgment.
Some people think, ‘If you go to hell, you go to hell. What is the difference?’ A professor of mine once said that a sinner in hell would give everything he owned and do anything he could to make one less the number of his sins during his lifetime, because he will be judged according to his deeds. There are various degrees of punishment in hell because hell is where God manifests his perfect justice, and the punishment always fits the crime. If someone commits thirty sins, he is going to be punished thirty ways. So long as our hearts remain hardened, we add to the indictment moment by moment.” (Romans, Sproul pp.61-62)
This is deadly serious.
How can I know that my heart is right with God? Paul presents to us a threefold test in Romans 2:7.
•Test#1 “patient continuance”—the test of our perseverance. I saw a lady on Twitter the other day describing herself as a “former Christian.” There is no such thing. Those with eternal life possess it eternally or else they never had eternal life to begin with.
•Test#2 “doing good”—the test of our practice. We aren’t saved by our works, but our works show true faith. Only God is good and only He can produce good works in us. If true good is done, it is because we have had a new birth.
•Test#3 “seek for glory, honor and immortality”—the test of our pursuit. You wouldn’t miss heaven for the world! This isn’t merely a veneer of religion, but an inward passion. Contrast that with the self-seeking, self-righteous: “but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,” (Rom.2:8).
Do you pass the test? The choice is yours:
“tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom.2:9-10)