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Romans 2:1-16 (web)

Sin's Condemnation
The Guilt of the Self-Righteous

Jews Are Judged by Their Works

2:1 Therefore you are without excuse, O man, whoever you are who judge.
For in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself.
For you who judge practice the same things.
2:2 We know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
2:3 Do you think this, O man who judges those who practice such things,
and do the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
2:4 Or do you despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance,
and patience, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

2:5 But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up
for yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God;

2:6 who "will pay back to everyone according to their works:"
2:7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for
glory and honor and incorruptibility, eternal life;

2:8 but to those who are self-seeking, and don't obey the truth,
but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath and indignation,

2:9 oppression and anguish, on every soul of man who works evil,
on the Jew first, and also on the Greek.

2:10 But glory and honor and peace to every man who works good,
to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Jews Are Judged with Impartiality

2:11 For there is no partiality with God.

2:12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without the law.
As many as have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

2:13 For it isn't the hearers of the law who are righteous before God,
but the doers of the law will be justified

2:14 (for when Gentiles who don't have the law do by nature the things of the law,
these, not having the law, are a law to themselves,

2:15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts,
their conscience testifying with them,
and their thoughts among themselves accusing or else excusing them)
2:16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men,
according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.


What excuses do you have for not living up to God's perfect standards?
What types of sin do you get most angry at?
Do you find that you are struggling with a similar form of that sin yourself?
How might people think that they can escape the judgment of God by judging others?
In vs 4, how does God's kindness lead us to repentance? What sort of kindness?
What does it mean to "persist" in doing good? And have you always persisted in doing good?
Do you find that at times you are self-seeking and that at times, when people tell you the truth, that you reject it because it conflicts with your chosen lifestyle?
Would you characterize yourself as a "good" person? (Compare with Luke 18:19)
What about people who never read the Bible, who were not aware of God's standards? Can they be excused? How will God judge them?


Hypocrisy Characteristic of "Good" People

Rom 2:1 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.

In chapter one Paul spoke of people's outward sinfulness of which all would agree is bad. But here in this chapter he'll speak of sins such as the religious elite and self-righteous commit. Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector starts, "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:" Luke 18:9 Likewise there are those today, particularly among religious people who look down on everyone else. While the hypocrisy that Jesus pointed out of the Pharisee in that parable and of the religious elite in Matthew chapter 23, it is even more tragically amusing to hear of the religious hypocrisy of inherent in the Muslim community which should be obvious to all. Fact is, as this chapter will show, all are guilty and therefore all need to be saved, be it the homosexual or the imam.

Here the apostle confidently makes this claim because it is so characteristic of human nature to be sensitive to those areas of which oneself is guilty, though it be secretly. Though it may not be the particular sin of which one is guity, but rather the category of sin. Thus in being outraged at hearing of rape, one may nonetheless themselves be involved in some form of sexual immorality, such as pornography.

As an example consider King David, who had committed adultery with Bathseba and then had her husband secretly killed.

2Samuel 12:1-5
The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him." David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!"

2Samuel 12:7a Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"

Judging Others

Rom 2:2,3 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?

He is not discouraging people from scrutinizing another. For isn't he himself doing so in these very sections? And doesn't he teach that Christians should judge another, as he asks rhetorically, "Are you not to judge those inside (the church)?" 1Cor 5:12b Now there are those who frequently misapply the saying, "Judge not and you shall not be judged". Luke 6:37 in order to condemn others who scrutinize them, which itself is a violation of their own interpretation of the saying. But many in this post-modernistic society would like to believe they can get away with anything so long as they don't scrutinize others. Jesus was actually speaking in a proverbial sense of that which is human nature, namely that if you scrutinize others, they will scrutinize you, which is a truisim. Try it. When you judge others, they will almost immediately turn around and judge you.

Such is one of the expression of self-righteousness - to try and envade scrutiny by putting the spotlight on others. It started in the garden where Adam, being accused by God, accused Eve in return, who then turned the spotlight on the serpent. Pointing fingers is not going to help on the judgement day, where each must give an account of themselves to God. And much as there are those of a liberal or libertarian mindset who may claim there are no absolute moral standards, such show their hypocrisy when someone does  something bad to them.

Now consider incidents in which you've thought or pointed out something wrong about someone else, and consider whether in some way you had likewise been guilty.

Why Good Things Happen to Bad People

Rom 2:4,5 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 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.

Some ask as to why bad things happen to good people. But shouldn't one also ask as to why good things happen to bad people? This was the queston Asaph expressed in Psalm 73 saying, "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, "How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?" This is what the wicked are like— always carefree, they increase in wealth." Ps 73:3-12 But when he thought further on this matter, this is what he concluded, "When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny." Ps 73:16,17

God is gracious to the wicked so that they may turned from their wickedness and repent. He gives them grace - leeway for a time - and time itself for them to reflect on the matter. And it is for this reason the Lord delays his return, just as the judgement against Caanan was delayed 400 years (Gen 15:13-16)  But "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2Peter 3:9

However the more grace, the more accountability. Thus for example Paul spoke of those who oppose the propagation of the gospel with hostility and said of them, "They displease God and are hostile to all men  in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit." 1Th 2:15b-16a

The Judgement of Works

Rom 2:6-8 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.

The quote Paul is using is found in a number of places, both in the Old and New Testaments.

Jer 32:19b You reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve.

Proverbs 24:11,12  Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"

Mt 16:27  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

Re 20:12b  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

Now there are those who ignore the rest of Romans and simply take these verses out of context preaching a different gospel. They claim that apart from faith in Christ, just seeking God, seeking eternal life, that itself is sufficient to qualify a person for eternal life.  Though in the gospel there is grace is of which Paul will speak of later, here Paul is just speaking of Law, namely that God is judicially obligated to give eternal life to those who do good, and wrath to those who do evil. He's not talking about salvation by faith yet. He's not talking about grace yet.

Likewise on one occasion when a man who considered himself good (Mr 10:17), and on another occasion when a lawyer ask, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?", Jesus didn't answer with the gospel of grace, but rather with the Law. He said, "What is written in the Law?" Luke 10:26 Such is the response to those who think they are good enough to be saved. Such people don't seek grace in view of their guilt. And so the gospel of grace is irrelevant and inapplicable to them, until they come to conviction of sin, which is Paul and Jesus' purpose in speaking to the self-righteous in such  a manner. To them Jesus says, "There is no one good but God alone." Mk 10:18

But if a person persistently only does good, never committing sin, that person will have earned eternal life. That's the Law. They earn eternal life simply because there is no basis upon which God could judicially condemn them. And those who do evil, will of course suffer God's wrath in accordance with God's judicial nature. What Paul is about to show is that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and as such are not qualified to earn eternal life by good behavior.

This is not to say that those who have been justified by grace through faith can then live a lifestyle of sin. But again - in reality, due to the nature of regeneration, there exists no such person (1John 3:9), just as "There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins." Ecc 7:20

A Judgement of Jew and Gentile Alike

Rom 2:9,10 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.

Good news for those who do good. But Jesus said, "No one is good— except God alone." Luke 18:19b That being the case, only the bad news is left.

As for the Jew being first, he mentioned this also in Rom 1:16, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." The earliest Christians were Jews. Such Jews didn't "convert" to Christianity, for one can be both a Jew and a Christian, as these were not incompatible with each other. Futhermore Jesus was Jewish. He was the Jewish Messiah prophesied in such places as Isaiah 53. And his apostles and the writers of the New Testament were Jewish. Paul himself came from the strictest sect of Judaism, being a Pharisee. But the gospel of Christ also extends beyond Judaism to embrace all nations. However as the more you know, the more you will be held responsible, so also with the Jews.  In chapter 3 Paul will speak of the advantage of being a Jew, but with advantages come responsibility and consequently accountability. Thus Jesus said, "That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12:47,48

God is Impartial in Judgement

Rom 2:11-13 For there is no partiality with God. 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 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified

Issues of favoritism and prejudice is a theme in the New Testament primarily with regards to the prejudice the Jews had towards the Gentiles. Remember he has yet to present the gospel of grace, which is apart from works. But apart from grace there is a performance based salvation available for "good" people. As for why those who don't have the law will nonetheless be judged, he will speak on shortly.

With regards to the Jews, that is, those who have explicitly heard the law of God, his point is that there is no virtue in merely hearing the law if one does not practice it. It is vain for a Jew to rely upon his Jewishness to save him. "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'" Gal 3:10 

A Judgement of the Conscience

Rom 2:14-16  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, 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) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

For this reason those who have never read the scriptures will nonetheless be held accountable, for each is accountable to act in accordance with their conscience. And "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn‘t do it, sins." Jas 4:17 
And not only with regards to outward behavior. For God will also judge the secrets of the heart. For example, "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Mt 5:28 and "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him." 1John 3:15

Now while religious people worldwide may agree with his points so far, here we see something they may not have known. Namely the Jesus Christ will be the judge. "For God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." Acts 17:31

A Judgement of the Religious Elite

Rom 2:17-20 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—

Jesus and here Paul speak of two classes of people - those who consider themselves right with God based upon being "good" and those who disregard God. Both need to be saved. But the common approach to preparing "good" people for the gospel is to show that they are sinners and thus need to be saved. Here Paul starts to really focus on the religious elite, the self-righteous with the same kind of tone Jesus used with regards to the religious elite to convict them of sin.

Today such is the case not only regards to Jews or Muslims, and even among Christians there are those who rely upon the law to justify them. That is today we could just as well replace the word "Jew" here with "Muslim" or "Christian".

However here he is not saying that these attributes are bad. For example with regards to bragging about one's relationship with God it says, "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight." Jer 9:23,24

With respect to God's will it says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God‘s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will." Rom 12:2

With respect to being a light it says, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." 2Cor 4:6

With regards to teaching it says, "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." 1Tim 5:17 

So all these activities of which he is speaking are commendable.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Jan 28,2022