1 - 8 The Righteous Judgment of God
1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same [yourself], that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
V1. You may know people who know exactly how others should act. They enjoy telling about the shortcomings of others. These aren’t the people who live in the loose manner described in chapter one, but when they see others who live like that, they condemn them. It doesn’t cross their minds that by doing this they are condemning themselves because the same things are present in their hearts.
An example of this is found in John 8 (Jn 8:1-11). The leaders of the people of Israel came to the Lord Jesus with a woman caught in the act of adultery. In answering their question regarding what was to be done with her, the Lord said: “He who is without sin among you, let him [be the] first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Upon hearing this they all went out! Not one of the accusers was blameless. In their hearts they had all committed the same sin. This is indeed true for every person who thinks he isn’t guilty of the terrible sins he points out in others.
V2-3. But we, you and I, know they will not escape the judgment of God which will come upon them in righteousness. A day will come when “God will judge the secrets of men” (see verse 16). Then it will become clear how God has always viewed things.
V4. Fortunately, there is another side to the matter. There is the kindness of God by which you and every other believer have come to repentance. What a riches of ”kindness and tolerance and patience” are present with God! God didn’t want you to continue on the road of ruin. He met you and let you see what you were doing and what would become of you. Your conscience was made active and it made you acknowledge that God’s judgment would have to strike you.
“Repentance” is seeing yourself as God sees you and accepting His judgment over you as rightly deserved. You once had high thoughts of yourself and low thoughts of God. This has radically changed in you and now you think of yourself more lowly, and more highly of God. This is really just the starting point for the rest of your life, but you need to continue to learn this more and more. This new view of yourself and God has been given to you by His kindness.
V5. People who pass by God’s kindness display their stubborn and unrepentant heart. Such a person feels he is good enough by himself to appear before God. Even though deeds can appear good in our eyes, all deeds done with an unrepentant heart form an ever-increasing mound over which God’s judgment will come in the day of wrath.
V6-8. God will righteously judge the deeds of man and render them for all they have done. He gives “eternal life” to everyone who seeks “for glory, honor and immortality” by persisting in doing good deeds according to God’s standards. But God will pour out His “wrath and indignation” on all who have followed the natural inclinations of their hearts and have not considered His rights.
In both of these situations, each person has shown what he pursues in life. This is the way God acts with people who have set up standards and values for their lives. But no man has received eternal life from God as a reward for his exemplary and faultless life, for there never has been such a man. Only the Lord Jesus was perfect, and He who deserved life, entered into death. He voluntarily did this. And now He, Who is eternal life Himself, gives this eternal life to everyone who admits his inability to earn it himself.
Now read Romans 2:1-8 again.
Reflection: Think about a way to present the gospel to someone who thinks he is doing everything right.
9 - 16 Jews and Gentiles
9 [There will be] tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for [it is] not the hearers of the Law [who] are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Let’s begin with a review. Romans 1:19-32 speaks about the Gentiles. Then in Romans 2:1-8 Paul addresses people who think they are not as bad as the Gentiles.
V9-11. Now in verses 9-16, Paul continues with this topic, but he makes a distinction between the two groups of people: Jews and Greeks. The Greeks are also called the Gentiles or heathen. Heathen, or as is said here “Greek”, doesn’t just mean those with little civilization. When he addresses the heathen, Greek or Gentile people, Paul refers to all people who are not Jews – those with whom God didn’t make a special relationship as He had with the Jews. Jews are the people to whom God made His will known by giving them a law. God didn’t make himself known to the Gentiles in that way.
You could apply this to the situation in which we live. There are people who have grown up in a Christian family and there are people who have grown up in families in which God’s will has not been made known. Even so, God does not show partiality or favoritism to persons in the future judgment. He who does evil, either Jew or Greek, will receive “tribulation and distress” from God. He who does good deeds, being either Jew or Greek, will receive “glory and honor and peace”.
V12. The difference is the standard that is applied for judgment. Jews and Greeks have both received something from God through which they know what is right and wrong. God gave the Jews a law in which He made known what they were to do. They will be judged by this law. The Gentiles never had a law and will perish without one.
V13-15. But they have something else – a conscience. For example, most heathen know by nature they shouldn’t steal, even though God never told them through a law. If they still plan to do it, they will be troubled by their conscience. It speaks to them, and if they listen to the voice of their conscience, they would not steal. Therefore they show that the work of the law is written in their hearts because in the law it is written: “You shall not steal” (Exo 20:15). He who does what the law says, even though it has never been made known to him, will be justified. It doesn’t matter whether you have heard of God’s will or not, but it does matter whether you do what God wants.
Every person, even if he is ignorant of God and His will, has received a conscience passed down from the fall of Adam through which he knows the difference between good and evil. This conscience is formed or deformed in proportion to the values set up by parents and surrounding society. A person can try to not listen to the voice of his conscience, but deep in his heart it is still there. Others around him may remind him about these wrong things. Certain rules are enforced by the groups in which people live. If someone oversteps these rules, he is judged. If someone is judged and it becomes evident he has not committed a crime, he will be defended. This is how it works with people who have no knowledge of God.
V16. But God looks further than deeds. God also sees the source of a person’s works. He sees the secrets of the heart where reasoning takes place. He knows the motives through which a person lets himself be led. We can conceal our real motives for each other, but not for God. A day will come when God will judge these secret things through Jesus Christ (1Cor 4:5).
This is an unpleasant thought for most people. They would rather not think about it. However, this judgment also is part of what Paul calls “my gospel”. Motives are just as important for God as deeds. People can be misled by deeds, but not God. He who really lives with God will not have any difficulty in opening his heart completely to God.
Now read Romans 2:9-16 again.
Reflection: How do you view the thought that God knows all about you?
17 - 29 The Jews and the Law
17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 18 and know [His] will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written. 25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter [of the Law] and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
V17-20. Now Paul addresses the Jews. He makes it clear to them that they also need God’s gospel. He first sums up a number of things in which the Jews boasted. They boasted that they were in connection with God. They were confident they could be guides, lights, correctors and teachers because they thought they knew God’s will through the law. They imagined others were inferior: blind, in darkness, foolish and immature. They felt superior and elevated above other people.
V21-23. And God had revealed His will to them in the law. What they didn’t realize was that first of all they had to obey it. Christians also can boast like this about knowing the Bible. They tell others how to behave, but they have never seen themselves in the light of the Bible. They only know it for others. They may condemn stealing if someone else does it, but if they do it, they call it taking something to which they have a right. Similarly, they say it’s wrong to commit adultery, but they forget the Lord Jesus said that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27-28).
They know an idol is an abomination, but they do not mind using their time, strength, property, intelligence, etc. for themselves instead of for God. So, if someone is boasting of knowing the will of God, but is not obeying it in his life, he then dishonors God.
V24. Isn’t it true that God’s Name is blasphemed because people go to some religious meeting on Sunday, but during the rest of the week they try to enrich themselves as much as possible at the expense of others?
V25. Paul then mentions circumcision. You can read about its establishment in Genesis 17. In the Old Testament, circumcision was the external sign that someone belonged to God’s people, Israel. So you might expect a circumcised person to respect God’s will, but if someone didn’t obey God, his circumcision would mean nothing. Then his circumcision “has become uncircumcision”. The external sign of circumcision was only valid if the desire in the heart was to behave like a member of God’s people. This desire found its expression in doing God’s will.
V27-28. This even meant that an uncircumcised person, so someone who didn’t belong to Israel, but who respected the rights of the law, was owned by God as a member of His people. The result of this was eventual judgment on those who were only circumcised externally and not with the heart.
V28-29. The conclusion of this is seen in the last two verses. It deals with circumcision of the heart that leads us to the real meaning of circumcision. In Colossians 2 we read of a believer who has been circumcised in Christ’s circumcision (Col 2:11). The context shows this refers to Christ’s death on the cross when He died under God’s judgment for sin (Col 2:10-12). Someone who believes this with his heart is ‘circumcised of the heart’. He is a real Jew which means one who praises God.
Belonging to God’s people only externally attracts human honor. Man likes the visible side of religion because it makes him more important, but God looks at the heart. The external has only value for Him if it is a sincere representation of the attitude of the heart. God praises those in whom He finds “truth in the inward parts” (Psa 51:6). This is what counts with God.
Now read Romans 2:17-29 again.
Reflection: Ask yourself on which points you are still sensitive to human honor.