Romans 2:1- 3:20
Paul continues his view of the world’s spiritual condition. Remember, he’s not writing about believers here. His intent in this introductory survey is to show that everyone needs the Gospel, whether Jew or Gentile. But I’m going to treat some of this as if it applies to us as well, because we all still commit the sins he’ll mention, and although we’re forgiven, we need to be reminded that that’s not our way anymore. We won’t have to pay the penalty for doing these things like unbelievers will because the Lord has already done that for us, but it does grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin, and it will interrupt our fellowship with Him. And after all, the intent of this study is to help prepare us for the Lord’s return.
At the end of chapter 1, he was referring to those who have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:29-32)
Now he’ll include those who condemn others for doing these things, because every one of us has done something on this list at one time or another. Therefore, when we judge others for doing these things we’re ignoring the fact that we’re guilty as well. If we think they should be condemned, are we willing to apply the same standards to ourselves?
God’s Righteous Judgment
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:1-4)
If, as sinners, we condemn the sin of others, we identify ourselves as being worthy of similar condemnation. Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) Witnessing the sin of others should not bring thoughts of judgment to our minds, but sadness and empathy. It should awaken our spirit of intercession, causing us to ask God to forgive them. It could easily have been us committing the sin. It’s God’s mercy that draws people to Him, not His righteousness, and by asking for mercy on another’s behalf instead of condemning him or her, we may be helping to incline that person’s heart toward God. It’s one of our biggest jobs right now.
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.(Romans 2:5-11)
Regardless of their own spiritual condition, some folks think that it pleases God when they express their contempt for another person because of that person’s sins. But in reality it upsets Him because He knows that they’re just as guilty as the one they’re condemning. It’s a case of “the pot calling the kettle black” as the old saying goes. A lawyer would counsel that it violates the “clean hands” principle. It’s why Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Judging others implies that we think we’re better. It’s a self-seeking act, and by persisting in it we add to our own sin.
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:12-16)
Paul had previously told the Corinthians, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” (1 Cor. 4:5) All mankind intuitively knows good behavior from bad, but only God knows the motives of our hearts. Jesus admonished us to get the plank out of our own eye before worrying about the speck in our brother’s. (Matt. 7:5) Knowing the Law isn’t enough. We have to obey. And if we can’t, we have no business condemning someone else who can’t.
The Jews and the Law
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17-24)
The self-righteous would angrily deny such accusations. But Jesus taught that it’s not our behavior but the motive of our heart that convicts us. Anger is as bad as murder, lust is as bad as adultery, and envy is as bad as theft. Which of us is not guilty of these things? And as His brother James wrote, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)
Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:25-29)
Circumcision was the visible sign of the covenant. It identified a man as Jewish. But the covenant had its provisions, and violations of those provisions carried a penalty. The fact that a person was circumcised didn’t exempt him from the penalty, he’d be judged like anyone else. Conversely someone who was not circumcised, but kept the Law, would receive the same benefits as if he was. Once again we see that it isn’t outward appearances that matter with the Lord, but the inner thoughts and motives of our hearts.
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.
What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4)
But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—”Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. (Romans 3:1-8)
The “Judaizers” accused Paul of preaching a simplified message, giving believers the impression that God didn’t care how they behaved. Then they tried to convert new Gentile Christians to Judaism, saying they had to be circumcised and keep the Law before they could follow Jesus.
If God had not provided a remedy for sin that allows us to escape the judgment, then we might have had an argument that it’s unfair of Him to judge us. After all we were born with our sin nature, we didn’t decide to become sinners. But He knows the dilemma that His righteousness and our sinfulness have created for both Him and us, and came to Earth Himself to make things right. Our part is simply to accept in faith the remedy He provided. Failing that, we’re left with no other resolution but to stand on our own merit. Choosing to do so nullifies any claim of unfairness.
No One is Righteous
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;” (Isaiah 64:6)
“There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Isaiah 29:13)
“All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:1-3)
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” (Psalm 5:9)
The poison of vipers is on their lips.” (Psalm 140:3)
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” (Psalm 10:7)
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” (Isaiah 59:7-8)
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Psalm 36:1)
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.(Romans 3:9-20)
So here’s the situation. None of us can survive a judgment on our own merit. Whether Jew or Gentile, it’s impossible for us to solve our own sin problem. Even with the Law, the Jews are no better off than the Gentiles. No one can keep the Law, nor was it ever considered that anyone would. The Law was given to make sin obvious and our need for a Savior clear. Then the Savior was provided, and from that time forward the question has not been, “Are you a sinner or not?” but, “Have you accepted My remedy or not?” Paul has spent 2½ chapters convincing us of one truth. Everyone needs the Gospel. Next time he’ll begin giving it to us.