In Romans chapter 1, we learned about the degradation, and poverty, and godlessness of pagan society and culture. However, it is important that we realize the description of pagan societies did not really meet all the pagans. There are many moral pagans like Seneca whom Tertullian commends as being a moral man against the vices in excess of Greek society. And i think Romans 2:1-16 include not only the Jews but also the moral pagans who judge people hypocritically, and so Paul kind of widens the scope of those who look down their nose at others, and yet are guilty of the very same crimes. I would also say that verse 17 and following talk about the Jews specifically. Now in chapter 2, we’re going to look at the judgment of God again, because Paul’s summary is 3:21-31 is going to say, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. In chapter 2 we see six different principles that govern God’s judgments: according to truth (vs 2); accumulated guilt (vs 5); according to works (vs 6, 7); ‘no respecter of persons’ (vs 11); ‘doers and not just hearers’ (vs 13); and ‘the secret of men’s hearts (16).
Now let’s look at verse 1, “You, therefore, have no excuse,” – it’s exactly the same word as Romans 1:20, ‘anapologetos’ in Greek, meaning no legal defense whoever you are. I believe this is addressed to the Jews and a veiled reference to moral pagans. “…you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – the problem in this whole section of chapter two is a self-righteous judgment critical attitude on others, and a very lax judgment on oneself. Now look at verse 2 where it says, “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.” – the ‘we’ may be Jews, or it may be Christians, we’re not sure. It probably is ‘fellow Jews’, and verses 2 through 4 Paul is going to use a technique that he used throughout the book of Romans called ‘diatribe’ where he’s going to suppose that an objector is asking him certain questions about what he has just said, and then he’ll answer it. And that’s all the way through the book of Romans. Now in verse 3, “So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” – this is a grammatical sentence which expects a ‘no answer’ in the Greek grammar. Verse 4, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” – this is very important truth that humans tend to turn God’s mercy and grace into a license instead of an impetus for repentance. Friends, i want to tell you that the great motive of the Christian life is gratitude. Once we understand and have experienced the grace of God, then we live out of gratitude, not merit gratitude for what God has done. You might want to see 2 Peter 3:9 which is a good parallel passage.
Now in verse 5, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath.” – verses 6, 7, 8, and 16 speak a lot about God’s judgment. Notice where it says, “God will repay each person according to what they have done.” – judgment is going to include all, and it’s going to be based on works. I would like to refer you to on some of the passages in the Bible where God is going to deal with men according to their deeds: Job 34:11; Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2nd Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 2:23; 20:12; and 22:12. These are some of the passages that say God is going to judge all of us according to our deeds. There is a Book of Life in Revelations 20:12, and there’s going to be a Book of Deeds, and they’re both going to be opened on that Great Day. Notice as it says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality,” – there are many people who try to assert that those who don’t know the Gospel but try to love other humans are going to be saved in the last day. Friends, that is something we would all like to hear, but the truth of the matter is, the thesis of the book of Romans is that we’re saved by faith totally apart from works of the Law. That is the theses of the entire book, and therefore this must be interpreted considering the way we live gives validity to our faith decision. Paul is not contradicting his continual emphasis in all his writings, including Romans, that people are saved not by what they do but by faith in what Christ has done for them. Paul is referring to “persistence in doing good” as the proof of genuine faith. James picked it this way, “Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only, for faith without works is dead” (cf. James 1:22; 2:14-26). You might want to see Ephesians 2:8-10 as well. “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;” – Yes, the Jews had the first opportunity; they had the oracles of God, and because they had the resources, they’re going to be first in judgment, as well as they were first in opportunity. Now notice as it continues, “For God does not show favoritism.” – literally this means ‘God does not look up to the external circumstances of man’. God is just in dealing with man in the Old Testament (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17; 2 Chronicles 19:7) as He’s just in dealing with man in the New Testament (cf. Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6-9; Colossians 3:25; and 1 Peter 1:17). Friends, God judges according to deeds, not according to favoritism – for the Jew no favoritism, for the moral pagan, God judges according to deeds. That’s a scary thing! I don’t want justice friends, I want mercy. I’ so glad I’m in Christ, and i don’t want any part of what I deserve.
Notice what it says in verse 12, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law,” – what does that mean? Well, law has no article here, so it may be Mosaic Law, or Roman Law, or law in general. “…and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” – Here in chapter 2, beginning right here, we realize the fact that if someone has never heard the Gospel, they are going to be judged by the Gospel. If they never heard the Mosaic Law, they are not going to be judged in Mosaic Law. But in verses 14 and 15, Paul is going to assert like he did in chapter 1 verse 20 about natural revelation in nature: it’s beauty and design. As men can know something of God in nature, men can know something of God because of their inner moral light which we call conscience. Those who have never seen the Mosaic Law or never heard the Gospel are going to be judged by the light that they have. And Paul’s summary is that none of us have lived up to the light that we have – be at the Old Testament, be at the Gospel, be it by nature, and be it via our inner moral sense, we’ve all blown the light that we had. Now notice as it says, in verse 13, “For it is not those who hear the law…” – this is a special word in Greek that meant about students of the law who would come to a lecture, but they would never really join and get to participate. Hearers of the law does not make men right with God. Now ‘right with God’ is a legal term that has something to do with a legal standard or a measuring reed, and that measuring reed refers to God Himself. All the words for sin are a deviation from that standard. All the words for righteousness, just, justice come from that root. The truth is, none of us can live up to the standard of God. We all need God’s grace, and God has provided that standard in Christ. “…but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” – in Matthew 7:24-27; John 13:17, and the classical passages James 1:22-25 attest to the fact that we need to be doers of the law, not hearers only. To know the truth is not enough; we must live the truth. To be saved is both to respond and then to live, and they’re both crucial.
Now in verse 14, “(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…” – C.S. Lewis in his writings tells of this moral law in all societies that even pagans who have never seen the Bible have that inner moral witness, and they show that the demands of the law are written on their hearts. It does not mean that pagans fulfilled the requirements of the Mosaic law but refers to practices in pagan society that agreed with the law, such as caring for the sick and elderly, honoring parents and condemning adultery are law for themselves. So, the moral nature of pagans, enlightened by conscience functioned for them as the Mosaic law did for the Jews. This inner moral sense is very, very important – I think our fallen nature affects our conscience, so we can’t trust our conscience really. But there is an inner moral sense that tells us that some things are innately right, and some things are innately wrong, and that is in all men everywhere. It’s only in the light of Scripture and the fulness of the Holy Spirit that our conscience be trusted in Jesus Christ. Now in verse 16, “This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” – Paul simply means that this is the kind of Gospel that he preaches; that Jesus is going to judge all men’s hearts. He’s going to judge our attitudes, our thoughts, and the intents of our hearts.