This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
I am not very attracted to liturgical prayers because, although liturgical language is often quite beautiful (like that of Shakespeare’s plays), the mere repetition of prayers tends, in my opinion, toward a love of language for its own sake and not meaning. There are exceptions, of course, and sometimes a particular phrase sticks in mind as expressing a great truth admirably.
I think of one such expression as we come to Romans 2:16: “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” The main idea is the uncovering of human secrets by God at the final judgment, and the liturgical expression of that truth, which I love, is from the opening collect of the Anglican Order for the Administration of Holy Communion. It begins, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.… ” I think that is a powerful expression—and helpful if it is used rightly. It reminds us that in a world ordered by an omniscient God there are, in the final analysis, no secrets. We may have secrets here, hiding from others what we are or do. But there will be no secrets on the day when all secrets will be brought to light before God.
The All-Knowing God
God knows all things even now, of course. God spoke of the Jewish people to Isaiah, saying, “For I know their works and their thoughts” (Isa. 66:18 kjv). King David wrote of himself:
O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
The author of Hebrews declared, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).
This is one reason why unregenerate people repress their knowledge of God, as Romans 1:18–20 declares they do. We looked at this when we were studying those verses. If God knows all things, as he must if he is God, he knows us not as we wish to project ourselves before others but as we really are, and none of us can stand the thought of such perfect and penetrating knowledge.
I pointed out in that earlier study that this is one of the characteristics of human nature perceived by the existentialist philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre. In his analysis of man, Sartre rooted man’s uniqueness in his being a subject, who observes, rather than an object, which is observed. A subject observes and acts. An object is observed and acted upon. The former pleases us. The latter is disturbing. In one of his works, Sartre imagines himself as a man who is standing in a hallway, looking through a keyhole at another person. As long as he is the observer and the other person is the object observed, Sartre is content. He is in control. But suddenly he hears footsteps in the hall, turns around, and realizes that someone has been looking at him as he has looked through the keyhole. Now he is no longer content. He is no longer in control, and he is overcome with feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and embarrassment. According to Sartre, to be fully human, man must be the ultimate subject rather than an object.
But what about God? How can one escape being an object before him, since God sees us always? Sartre’s solution was to banish God from his own private universe, to become an atheist.
In a series of essays called The Words, Sartre tells how he came to this point. He was a child at the time. He had been raised a Catholic, and as one of his assignments in the Catholic school he attended he had written a paper on the Passion of Christ. When the awards were presented for these papers, Sartre was given only a silver medal rather than the gold. He resented it and blamed God. Sartre wrote, “This disappointment drove me into impiety.… For several years more, I maintained public relations with the Almighty. But privately, I ceased to associate with him.”
Then he tells how, during these years, there was a time when he felt that God existed: “I had been playing with matches and burned a small rug. I was in the process of covering up my crime when suddenly God saw me. I felt his gaze inside my head and on my hands. I whirled about in the bathroom, horribly visible, a live target. Indignation saved me. I flew into a rage against so crude an indiscretion, I blasphemed, I muttered like my grandfather: ‘God damn it, God damn it, God damn it.’ He never looked at me again.”
That story alone explains the life and philosophy of Sartre. Yet it is sad and tragic. Sad, because it is mistaken. Sartre says, “He [God] never looked at me again.” But in reality God never ceased to look at Sartre. God looks on all things and sees them perfectly. Actually, it was Sartre who had ceased to look at God. Tragic, because by turning his back on God, Sartre turned from the one being in the universe who could have helped him.
I said earlier that Sartre’s solution to the problem of being beneath the gaze of God and of being overcome by natural feelings of shame, fear, guilt, and embarrassment was to banish God from his universe—to become an atheist. But it does not require a philosophical genius to realize that this is only whistling in the dark. If there is a God, as even Sartre indirectly attests, then he cannot be so banished, certainly not by human beings. Moreover, if God is omniscient, as he must be if he is God, then not only has he seen all the evil deeds we have done and known the evil thoughts we have had. He also remembers them. And one day he will produce them for exposure and judgment.
It is what Paul speaks about when he writes of “the day when God will judge man’s secrets through Jesus Christ.”
Naked Before God and Man
I now take you from that day of judgment to one of the very first days of human history. It is the day when Adam and Eve stood before God in the Garden of Eden shortly after having sinned by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story is in Genesis 3, but the theme is set in the previous chapter, before the fall, where it is said: “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25).
I have said many times in considering this story that I have no doubt that this was a literal physical nakedness. Otherwise the matter of their making fig-leaf clothes for themselves, which we are told about later, has no meaning. But it was a psychological nakedness, too. Adam and Eve were not ashamed in their nakedness before they sinned. It was only after they had sinned that they were conscious of it.
Why were they unashamed before the fall? The answer is obvious. Nakedness has to do with exposure, not only with external, physical exposure but, more importantly, with internal exposure. They were not ashamed in their nakedness before the fall because they had nothing to be ashamed about.
1. They were unashamed before God. Adam and Eve had done nothing that would have been any cause for shame. They were without sin at the time, and their relationship to God was one of utter openness. They delighted to see God when he came to them in the garden. They conversed with him freely. We cannot do this, of course, and the reason we cannot do it is sin. Sin causes us to hide from God, as Adam and Eve later did when God came to them. Sin causes us to flee from him.
Some flee into atheism, as Sartre did.
Some flee into materialism.
Even Christians run away from God when they persist in sin.
Donald Grey Barnhouse had been preaching on a college campus and had been invited to speak in one of the women’s dorms following a meeting that had been held elsewhere that evening. When he finished, one of the young women remained behind, obviously offended by his teaching. Her face was scowling. “I used to believe that stuff, but I don’t believe it anymore,” she said.
Barnhouse asked, “What class are you in?”
“I’m a freshman.”
“What kind of a family do you come from?” The girl said that she came from a Christian family.
“Do you have a Bible?”
“Do you read it?”
“I used to read it,” the student said, “but I don’t read it anymore. I told you I no longer believe that stuff.”
“Can you remember when you stopped reading it?” Barnhouse asked. The girl said that she had stopped reading it around Thanksgiving. “Tell me,” said Barnhouse, “what happened in your life around November the tenth?” The girl began to cry, and it soon came out that at that time she had started to live in sin with a young man, and it was because of this that she could no longer tolerate the gaze of God when she read her Bible.
Wesley said it well: “The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.” This is because the God who confronts us in Scripture is the holy God before whom all hearts are open.
2. They were unashamed before each other. Before the fall, it was not only God before whom Adam and Eve were unashamed. They were also unashamed before each other, and for the same reason. They had nothing to be ashamed about. They had not lied to one another. They had not falsely accused one another, as they later did, trying to shift the blame for their sin to others. They had not harmed one another. As a result they could be completely themselves. Today no one can be completely open in a relationship. In some good relationships we come close. But still, there is a residue of ourselves that we keep hidden even from a spouse or very close friend. Why? Because we are ashamed of ourselves, and we fear that if we reveal the fault, the other will cease to love us or respect us.
3. They were unashamed in their own eyes. Both Adam and Eve were without shame as they looked on themselves. In those first days, Adam could look at himself and know he had nothing to hide. And Eve could look at herself and know she had nothing to hide.
What about us? Today, most of us will hardly stop our mad race through life long enough even to take a brief glance at who we are. Generations ago, people lived more slowly; they could reflect on who they were and where they were going. Modern life has intensified the pace. Most of us cannot even come into a room and sit down for two minutes without feeling the need to snap on the television set or radio to fill our heads with stimulation—anything to keep from thinking. “All the news, all the time!” That is what we want. And the reason we want it is that we do not want to consider that we are naked before God and that nothing is hidden from him before whom we must give account.
Hiding from Thee
What we are and do comes out in the continuation of the Genesis story. Adam and Eve sinned, in spite of the warning God had given them concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So when God came to them in the garden they hid themselves—or at least they tried to.
Actually, they had already tried to hide, first from themselves and then from each other. They did it by trying to make clothing from fig leaves. Sometimes when people are trying to be funny they speak of prostitution as the oldest human profession, but they are wrong in this. The oldest profession is not prostitution but the clothing industry. Later, sin showed itself in sexual sins as well as in other ways. But the very first effect of sin was the opening of the eyes of Adam and Eve to perceive that they were naked, in response to which “they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen. 3:7). In other words, as sinners they found their psychological exposure intolerable and tried to cover up. At first they used leaves. Later, when God appeared to question them, they used evasions and excuses and tried to put the blame on God.
I have sometimes spoken of these leaves as good works and of the attempt to be covered by them as “fig-leaf righteousness.” It was a way of saying, “We are all right. We are not sinners. We are good people.” Well, as long as it was just the two of them, they got by, since they were both sinners. But the fig leaves were inadequate when they finally stood before God, just as our good works will be useless at the judgment.
I do not know what happened to those fig leaves when God finally appeared to Adam and Eve and called them to stand before him. Perhaps they fell off. But whether or not they did, they might as well have, for nothing could have hidden from God what they were or had done. So it will be in our judgment. We commit our sins in secret. We present a false face to the public. We declare that God does not exist. We brand ourselves atheists. We think we are safe. But we do not need reporters hiding in the bushes to observe what we are doing and report it in the National Enquirer. We do not need a talk-show host to reveal our cover-up transactions. God knows. God remembers. And one day he “will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ.”
What a dreadful last scene to human history!
The Psalmist said, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins [and he does], O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3).
Naked—Yet Clothed by God
I come to the climax of the story of Adam and Eve’s sin, and it is chiefly for this that I tell it. God told Adam and Eve that the punishment for their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would be death. But when he confronted them in their sin and exposed it, the death he had promised fell not on them but on a substitute. And here is a truly thrilling point: It was with the skin of the substitute that they were clothed.
The Bible tells it tersely, saying, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). The text does not indicate what animals God killed in order to get the skins with which he clothed Adam and Eve, but in view of the development of this idea later in the Bible, I tend to think that they were lambs and that the skins were lambskins. Certainly, the incident is meant to point to Jesus Christ as the only sufficient atonement for sin, and Jesus is pictured as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Whatever they were, God must have killed animals in order to have the skins with which he clothed our first parents.
Think what this must have meant to Adam and Eve. Their first thought, when they saw the animals lying dead in front of them, must have been, “So this is what death is!” They must have regarded the scene with horror. God had told them, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). But if they had not witnessed death before this, which we are to suppose they had not, they probably did not take this threat seriously. Now suddenly death was before them, and they must have sensed for the very first time how serious it is to disobey God. In that instant it must have dawned on them that if death is the result of sin, then sin is far worse than anything they could possibly have imagined. Moreover, they were sinners, and their sin was damnable.
But there is something else that must have gripped them in that instant, and that was a deep and growing wonder at God’s mercy. God had told them that their sin would be punished by death. And it was! But wonder of wonders, it was not themselves who died but the animals. They had broken God’s law. God had every right to take their lives in forfeit of his broken commandment. But instead, he showed that there could be a substitution. An innocent could die for them.
And there was another marvel, too. They were exposed as sinners. All the secrets they had were revealed. But although their sins were exposed— their nakedness was a symbol of it—they did not have to remain naked. Rather, God clothed them with the skins of the slain animals. So they were both exposed and covered at the same time.
This is what must be done for us. We cannot escape from our guilt. The guilt is there and is well documented. We can try to deny it, but everything in our lives, culture, and psychological makeup will refute the denial. We show our guilt by doors and blinds and shower curtains and the clothing industry—as well as by our calculated attempts to hide from one another. These patterns testify to the truthfulness of the Word of God. But the gospel tells us that God deals with this guilt. He does not just deny, forgive, or forget it. He deals with it in Jesus Christ. Christ died for sin; the penalty of sin has been paid. Now God clothes those who have believed in Christ with Christ’s righteousness:
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Whoever you are, the day is coming when you will stand before the judgment bar of God, and God will judge even the deepest secrets of your heart. How will you manage in that day? You can appear before God in only one of two ways. Either you will stand before him in the righteousness of Christ, your sin atoned for by his death, or you will stand in the horror of your own spiritual and moral nakedness. The Bible speaks of people who will be like that. It describes their terror. “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’ ” (Rev. 6:15–17).
Do not wait until the day when God will expose and judge all secrets. Flee to Christ for his righteousness today.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 241–248). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.