Paul's Epistle to the Romans

 (7) Revelation of the Sin of Good People
Romans 2:1-16


1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge. In the last chapter Paul painted a picture of the deplorable condition of the heathen. The apostle knew, however, that there would be a whole class of men who would say “amen” to what he had said about the heathen. These were the self-righteous moralists.* So Paul expands his argument to show that the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (1:18) includes the moralist as well as the depraved heathen. The moralist is inexcusable when he judges the heathen for sin but is blind to his own sin. He only condemns himself when he condemns another.

For you who judge practice the same things. It is obvious that the moral man was not involved in the sexual deviations of the heathen or else Paul could not call him a moral man. But he was inwardly living in an identical manner as the heathen was living outwardly. Perhaps the moral man did not commit adultery, but did he lust? Our Lord put them in the same category: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27–28). Maybe the moral man did not steal, but did he covet? Stealing and covetousness are listed together in Mark 7:21-23: “For from within, out of the heart of men, go forth evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickednesses, deceit, licentiousness, a wicked eye, injurious language, haughtiness, folly; all these wicked things go forth from within and defile the man.”  Maybe the moral man did not commit murder, but did he hate? The Bible says if you hate your brother you are guilty of murder: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (I Jn 3:15). No one dares judge another while he is doing the same thing because he is then condemned by his own judgment. Fallen man can see faults in others more readily than in himself. Things hideous and repulsive in the lives of others seem quite respectable in his own eyes. But the fact that he can judge sins in others shows that he knows the difference between right and wrong. If he knows that it is wrong for someone to steal his wife, then he knows that it is wrong for him to steal someone else’s wife. Therefore, when someone commits the very sins he condemns in others, he leaves himself without excuse.

The sins of cultured people are essentially the same as those of the heathen. Although a moralist may argue that he has not committed every sin in the book, he should remember the following facts:
1. He is capable of committing them all.
2. By breaking one commandment, he is guilty of all. “For whoever shall keep
     the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10).
3. He has committed sins of thought which he may never have committed in  
    actual deed, and these are forbidden by the word.

†Moralist, moral man, and good man have the same meaning in this passage and stand for unsaved Jews and Gentiles.

2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.

The judgment of God is according to truth. When God judges it is always according to truth or in accordance with the facts. The moralist may attempt to hide the facts, but God always exposes them. What the smug moralist needs is a lesson on the judgment of God, and Paul gives that lesson in verses 2–16. The first point is that the judgment of God is according to truth. It is not based on incomplete, inaccurate, or circumstantial evidence. Rather, it is based on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The searching eye of God always ferrets out the truth.

Against those who practice such things. Paul is talking about the crimes listed in chapter 1. He is pointing out that if we know the word of God, yet we refuse to obey His word and instead do those things, then by our self-willed action we bring God’s condemnation and judgment down on us. God doesn’t wink at wickedness or treat sin lightly for Jews or Gentiles.

3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?

And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things. Those who think they are exempt from God’s judgment because they have not used the immoral excuses described in chapter 1 are tragically mistaken. They have more knowledge than the immoral pagan and therefore they have greater accountability. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ Law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? If someone has sufficient knowledge to judge others, he condemns himself because he shows he has sufficient knowledge to evaluate his own condition.

That you will escape the judgment of God? The judgment of God is inescapable on those who condemn others for the very sins they practice themselves. Their capacity to judge others does not absolve them from guilt. In fact, it increases their own condemnation. The judgment of God is inescapable unless we repent and are forgiven. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” (Heb. 2:3).

4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

The contemptible attitude of the Jews stood in stark contrast to the goodness of God. God had shown abundant kindness and patience despite the nation’s persistent rebellion and rejection of His will. Judgment had only been postponed, not overlooked. This delay is an evidence of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering. His goodness means that He is kindly disposed to sinners, though not to their sins. His forbearance describes His holding back punishment on man’s wickedness and rebellion. His longsuffering is His amazing self-restraint in spite of man’s ceaseless provocation.

God’s kindness as seen in His providence, protection, and preservation, gives opportunity for repentance, but the Jews interpreted it as a sign of immunity from judgment. But instead of giving immunity, the goodness of God, is aimed at leading men to repentance.  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Repentance means an about-face, turning one’s back on sin and heading in the opposite direction. It is a change of mind which produces a change of attitude, and results in a change of action. It signifies a man’s taking sides with God against himself and his sins. It is more than an intellectual agreement with the fact of one’s sins; it involves the conscience too, as John Newton wrote: “My conscience felt and owned my guilt.” It never occurs to the moralist that he personally needs the goodness of God just as the heathen does. He is unaware of his need for repentance.

5 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,

But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart.  After years of glossing over his personal sin and guilt, the pride of the moralist will not allow him to have a change of mind, which is repentance. Consequently his pride and sinful heart stockpile the wrath of God so that in the day of wrath and revelation, the day of God’s righteous judgment, the Lord God will deal as justly with the moral man as he does with the heathen.

One of the attributes of God is that He is judging mankind. A god who does not judge is a god of our own imagination. Attempts are made to water down God’s judgment, explain it away, or apologize for it, but God’s judgment is an expression of the reaction of His holiness to evil. Judgment is an integral part of redemptive history as seen in the Fall (Gen. 3:14–19), the Flood (6:5–7), the plagues (Ex. 3:19, 20; 7:5; 11:4, 5), the conquest (Josh. 3:10), the destruction of Israel (2 Kin. 17:5–23), the destruction of Judah (25:1–21), the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21, 22), and the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11–15). There are many references in Scripture to both His judgment and His love. Judgment is necessary, since society recognizes that a judge who will not judge is a mockery. The Bible salutes God’s judgments as “righteous” and “true” (Ps. 19:9), impartial (Rom. 2:11), perfect (Ps. 19:7), and complete (Rev. 15:1).

All sin starts when we determine that we want to be like God (Gen. 3:5, 6). This attitude of the will is judged. We are told in Isaiah 14:14-15 that Satan had this attitude when he rebelled against God: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit.”  The Cross did not do away with judgment; it served as the lightning rod. “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). At the Cross judgment and mercy met, and both were victorious. Judgment is a necessity; the Cross has no meaning without it. “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation*by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24–26). In judgment, our innermost attitudes will be revealed, and justice will be administered. We would do well to prepare our hearts. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences” (2 Cor. 5:9–11).

Without the exercise of wrath against evil, God would be an unrighteous and immoral God. Those who continually sin make themselves the object of God’s “wrath.” Paul anticipated a future day when God would righteously judge the world. God’s judgment includes everyone; yet it is individually assigned. “Who will render to each one according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6). The judgment described here, based on deeds, is applied to two groups: the righteous and the wicked (vv. 8, 9). For Paul, as well as for James, faith must be confirmed in deeds. “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Another thing this verse teaches about the judgment of God is that it is graduated according to the accumulation of guilt. Paul pictures hardened and unrepentant sinners treasuring up judgment for themselves, as if they were building up a fortune of gold and silver. But what a fortune that will be in the day when God’s wrath is finally revealed at the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11–15)! In that day the judgment of God will be seen to be absolutely righteous, without prejudice or injustice of any kind.

*Propitiation is a means by which justice is satisfied, God’s wrath is averted, and mercy can be shown on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice.

6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”:

Who will render to every man according to his deeds. When unsaved men appear before the final judgment bar of God, at the Great White Throne Judgment, salvation will not be the issue. This is a judgment to determine the degree of punishment. Thus God will mete out punishment in relation to the evil deeds of the individual. By the same token, at the judgment seat of Christ, where only believers appear, God will reward us according to our deeds.

A man may boast of great personal goodness. He may rely heavily on his racial or national origin. He may plead the fact that there were men of God in his ancestry. But he will be judged by his own conduct, and not by any of these other things. His works will be the determining factor.

If we took verses 6–11 by themselves, it would be easy to conclude that they teach salvation by works. They seem to say that those who do good works will thereby earn eternal life. But it should be clear that the passage cannot mean that, because then it would flatly contradict the consistent testimony of the rest of Scripture to the effect that salvation is by faith apart from works. There are about 150 passages in the New Testament that place the condition for salvation exclusively on faith or believing. No one passage, when rightly understood, can contradict such overwhelming testimony.

So how are we to interpret this passage? First we must understand that good works do not begin until a person has been born again. When the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:28-29). So the first good work that anyone can do is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and we must constantly remember that faith is not a good work by which a person earns salvation. So if the unsaved are judged by their works, they will have nothing of value to present as evidence. All their supposed righteousness will be seen as filthy rags. “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away” (Isa. 64:6). The sin that will condemn them will be that they have not believed on Jesus as Lord. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”  (John 3:18). Beyond that, their works will determine the degree of their punishment. “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48).

If believers are judged according to their works, what will be the outcome? Certainly they cannot present any good works by which they might earn or deserve salvation. All their works before salvation were sinful. But the blood of Christ has wiped out the past. Now God Himself cannot find any charge against them for which to sentence them to hell. Once they are saved, they begin to practice good works—not necessarily good works in the world’s eyes, but good works as God sees them. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, their works will be reviewed and they will be rewarded for all faithful service.

We must constantly remember that this passage does not deal with believers—only with the ungodly.

7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;

In explaining that judgment will be according to works, Paul says that God will render eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality. As already explained, this does not mean that these people are saved by patient continuance in doing good. That would be another gospel. No one would naturally live that kind of life, and no one could live it without divine power. Anyone who really fits this description has already been saved by grace through faith. The fact that he seeks for glory, honor, and immortality shows that he has already been born again. The way he lives his life shows that he has been converted. He seeks for the glory of heaven; the honor that comes only from God—“How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44); the immortality that characterizes the resurrection body—“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:53-54); the immortality, which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading—“To an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Pet. 1:4).

God will award eternal life to all who display this evidence of a conversion experience. Eternal life is spoken of in several ways in the New Testament:
 It is a present possession which we receive the moment we are converted. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
 It is a future possession which will be ours when we receive our glorified bodies. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Rom. 6:22).
  Although it is a gift received by faith, it is sometimes associated with rewards for a life of faithfulness. “Who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30). All believers will have eternal life, but some will have a greater capacity for enjoying it than others.
 It means more than endless existence; it is a quality of life, the more abundant life which the Savior promised in John 10:10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
 It is the very life of Christ Himself. “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

Here in this passage, Paul is expressing an eternal truth. Obedience to God always does well in every generation; today and all the way back to the beginning. When Cain brought his fruit as an offering and God rejected it, God said, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Gen 4:7). Obedience to God in bringing the proper sacrifice would have been doing well. Today, in the age of grace, we do well by placing our faith in Christ Jesus as Savior. So faith in Christ is patient continuance in well doing in this age. This is what will bring glory, honor, and immortality.

8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,

But to those who are self-seeking (self-centered) and do not obey the truth. The moralist is likened to “those who are self-seeking.” Those who think only of themselves create a spirit of antagonism, jealousy or division. Paul says they have indignation (righteous anger) and wrath (a sudden outburst of anger) promised to them.

9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;

To indignation and wrath, Paul adds tribulation and anguish to the man who does evil. Here again I must stress that these evil works betray an evil heart of unbelief. These works are the outward expression of a person’s attitude toward the Lord.

The expression of the Jew first and also of the Greek; shows that the judgment of God will be according to privilege or light received. The Jews were first in privilege as God’s earthly chosen people; therefore, they will be first in responsibility. This aspect of God’s judgment will be developed further in verses 12–16.

10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

But glory, honor, and peace to everyone (Jew or Gentile) who works what is good. Paul now indicates that the reward of the righteous is glory, honor, and, instead of immortality as in Verse 7, peace. The expression, to the Jew first and also to the Greek cannot indicate favoritism, because the next verse points out that God’s judgment is impartial. So the expression must indicate the historical order in which the gospel went out. It was proclaimed first to Jews, and the first believers were Jews.

And let us not forget that no one can work good, as far as God is concerned, unless he has first placed his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

11 For there is no partiality with God.

Here is another truth concerning the judgment of God; it is that there is no partiality with God. In human courts of Law, preference is shown to the good-looking, wealthy, and influential; but God is strictly impartial. No considerations of race, place, or face will ever influence Him.

12 For as many as have sinned without Law will also perish without Law, and as many as have sinned in the Law will be judged by the Law.

God’s justice demands from both Jew and Gentile absolute righteousness, which can never be obtained through inadequate human efforts to keep the Law. Good works do not bring salvation; salvation brings good works. All have received some degree of God’s revelation and as a result stand responsible. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:20, 21).

As previously mentioned, the judgment of God will be according to the measure of light received. Two classes are in view: those who do not have the Law (the Gentiles) and those who are under the Law (the Jews). This includes everyone except those who are in the church of God (believers and followers of Christ; not church members).

For as many as have sinned without Law will also perish without Law. It does not say “will be judged without Law” but will also perish without Law. They will be judged according to whatever revelation the Lord gave them, and, failing to live up to that revelation, they will perish.

Those who have sinned in the Law will be judged by the Law.  Since they have not obeyed it, they too will perish. The Law demands total obedience. The moralist is no better off than the heathen if the moralist has the Law but does not keep it. The reason follows in the next verses.

13 For not the hearers of the Law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the Law will be justified;

Just knowing the Law is not enough. God demands perfect and continuous obedience to the Law. No one is considered righteous simply because he knows what the Law says. The only conceivable way of obtaining justification under the Law would be to keep it in its entirety. But since all men are sinners, it is impossible for them to do this. So this verse is really setting forth an ideal condition rather than something that is capable of human attainment.

The New Testament teaches emphatically that it is impossible for man to be justified by Law-keeping (see Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:11). It was never God’s intention that anyone be saved by the Law. Even if a person could keep it perfectly from this day forward, he still would not be justified, because God also requires a sinless past. So when verse 13 says that doers of the Law will be justified, we must understand it as meaning that the Law demands obedience, and if anyone could produce perfect obedience from the day he was born, he would be justified. But the cold, hard fact is that no one can produce this. No one was ever saved by keeping the Law!

 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, by nature do the things in the Law, these, although not having the Law, are a Law to themselves,

In verse 12, we learned that Gentiles who sin without the Law will perish without the Law. Now Paul explains that although the Law was not given to the Gentiles, yet they have an innate knowledge of right and wrong. They know instinctively that it is wrong to lie, steal, commit adultery, and murder. The only commandment they would not know intuitively is the one concerning the Sabbath; that one is more ceremonial than moral.

So what it boils down to is that the Gentiles, who do not have the Law, by nature do the things in the Law … are a Law to themselves. They form their own code of right and wrong behavior from their moral instincts.

15 who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

They show the work of the Law written in their hearts. It is not the Law itself which is written in their hearts, but the work of the Law. The work which the Law was designed to do in the lives of the Israelites is seen in some measure in the lives of Gentiles. The fact that they know that it is right to respect their parents, for example, shows the work of the Law written in their hearts. They also know that certain acts are basically wrong. Their conscience, serving as a monitor, confirms this instinctive knowledge. And their thoughts are constantly deciding the rightness or wrongness of their actions, accusing or excusing, forbidding or allowing.

16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

This verse is a continuation of the thought in verse 12. It tells when those without Law and those under the Law will be judged. And in doing so it teaches one final truth about the judgment of God—namely, that it will take into account the secrets of men, not just their public sin. Sin which is secret at the present time will be open scandal at the Judgment of the Great White Throne. The Judge at that solemn time will be Jesus Christ, since the Father has committed all judgment to Him. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). When Paul adds, according to my gospel, he means “so my gospel teaches.” My gospel means the gospel Paul preached, which was the same one which the other apostles preached.

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