Romans 2 – The Guilt of the Moralist and the Jew
A. God’s judgment upon the morally educated.
1. (1-3) An indictment against the morally educated man.
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. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 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?
a. Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge: In Romans 1, Paul pointed out the sin of the most notoriously guilty. He now speaks to those who are generally moral in their conduct. Paul assumes they are congratulating themselves that they are not like the people described in Romans 1.
i. A good example of this mind set is Jesus’ illustration of the Pharisee and the Publican. If we take those figures from Jesus’ parable, Paul spoke to the Publican in Romans 1 and now he addresses the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14).
ii. Many among the Jewish people of Paul’s day typified the moralist; but his words in Romans 2:1-16 seem to have a wider application. For example, there was Seneca, the Roman politician, moral teacher and the tutor of Nero. He would agree wholeheartedly with Paul regarding the morals of most pagans, but a man like Seneca would think, “I’m different from those immoral people.”
iii. Many Christians admired Seneca and his strong stand for “morals” and “family values.” “But too often he tolerated in himself vices not so different from those which he condemned in others – the most flagrant instance being his connivance at Nero’s murder of his mother Agrippina.” (Bruce)
b. For in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself: After gaining the agreement of the moralist in condemning the obvious sinner, now Paul turns the same argument upon the moralist himself. This is because at the end of it all, you who judge practice the same things.
i. As we judge another person, we point to a standard outside of our self – and that standard condemns everyone, not only the obvious sinner. “Since you know the justice of God, as evidenced by the fact that you are judging others, you are without an excuse, because in the very act of judging you have condemned yourself.” (Murray)
ii. Practice the same things: Notice that the moralist is not condemned for judging others but for being guilty of the same things that he judges others for. This is something the moral man would object to (“I’m not like them at all!”), but Paul will demonstrate this is true.
iii. Wuest, quoting Denney on for you who judge practice the same things: “Not, you do the identical actions, but your conduct is the same, i.e., you sin against light. The sin of the Jews was the same, but their sins were not.”
c. According to truth: This has the idea of “according to the facts of the case.” God will judge (and condemn) the moralist on the basis of the facts.
d. The point is made clear: if the moralist is just as guilty as the obvious sinner how will they escape the judgment of God?
i.You is emphatic in the question, “[do you think] you will escape the judgment of God?” Paul bears down here, letting his reader know that he is no exception to this principle. Paul knew how to get to the heart of his readers. “Our exhortations should be as forked arrows to stick in men’s hearts; and not wound only, as other arrows.” (Trapp)
ii. Lenski on the moralist: “Paul’s object is far greater than merely to convict also them of unrighteousness. He robs them, absolutely must rob them, of their moralism and their moralizing because they regard this as the way of escape from God’s wrath.”
2. (4-5) God’s judgment against the moralist is announced.
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 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,
a. Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering: Paul points out that the moralist himself presumes upon the goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering of God, which all should bring the moralist into a humble repentance instead of an attitude of superiority.
i. Goodness may be considered God’s kindness to us in regard to our past sin. He has been good to us because He has not judged us yet though we deserve it.
ii. Forbearance may be considered God’s kindness to us in regard to our present sin. This very day – indeed, this very hour – we have fallen short of His glory, yet He holds back His judgment against us.
iii. Longsuffering may be considered God’s kindness to us in regard to our future sin. He knows that we will sin tomorrow and the next day, yet He holds back His judgment against us.
iv. Considering all this, it is no surprise that Paul describes these three aspects of God’s kindness to us as riches. The riches of God’s mercy may be measured by four considerations:
· His greatness – to wrong a great man is a great wrong and God is greatest of all – yet He shows mercy.
· His omniscience – if someone knew all our sin, would they show mercy? Yet God shows mercy.
· His power – sometimes wrongs are not settled because they are out of our power, yet God is able to settle every wrong against Him – yet He is rich in mercy.
· The object of His mercy: mere man – would we show mercy to an ant? Yet God is rich in mercy.
v. Knowing how great God’s kindness is, it is a great sin to presume upon the graciousness of God, and we easily come to believe that we deserve it.
b. Forbearance and longsuffering: Men often think of this as weakness in God. They say things like “If there is a God in heaven, let Him strike me dead!” When it doesn’t happen, they will say, “See, I told you there was no God.” Men misinterpret God’s forbearance and longsuffering as His approval, and they refuse to repent.
i. “It seems to me that every morning when a man wakes up still impenitent, and finds himself out of hell, the sunlight seems to say, ‘I shine on thee yet another day, as that in this day thou mayest repent.’ When your bed receives you at night I think it seems to say, ‘I will give you another night’s rest, that you may live to turn from your sins and trust in Jesus.’ Every mouthful of bread that comes to the table says, ‘I have to support your body that still you may have space for repentance.’ Every time you open the Bible the pages say, ‘We speak with you that you may repent.’ Every time you hear a sermon, if it be such a sermon as God would have us preach, it pleads with you to turn unto the Lord and live.” (Spurgeon)
c. Not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance: Many people misunderstand the goodness of God towards the wicked. They don’t understand the entire reason for it is to lead them to repentance.
i. Men should see the goodness of God and understand:
· God has been better to them than they deserve.
· God has shown them kindness when they have ignored Him.
· God has shown them kindness when they have mocked Him.
· God is not a cruel master and they may safely surrender to Him.
· God is perfectly willing to forgive them.
· God should be served out of simple gratitude.
ii. Are you waiting for God to drive you to repentance? He doesn’t work like that; God leads you to repentance. “Notice, dear friends, that the Lord does not drive you to repentance. Cain was driven away, as a fugitive and a vagabond, when he had killed his righteous brother Abel; Judas went and hanged himself, being driven by an anguish of remorse because of what he had done in betraying his Lord; but the sweetest and best repentance is that which comes, not by driving, but by drawing: ‘The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.’” (Spurgeon)
iii. “In the New Testament, repentance is not simply negative. It means turning to a new life in Christ, a life of active service to God. It should not be confused with remorse, which is a deep sorrow for sin but lacks the positive note in repentance.” (Morris)
d. You are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God: Because of this presumption on God’s graciousness, Paul can rightly say that the moralist is treasuring up… wrath in the day of wrath.
i. The moralist thinks he treasures up merit with God as he condemns the “sinners” around him. Actually, he only treasures up the wrath of God. “Just as men add to their treasure of wealth, so dost thou add to the treasures of punishment.” (Poole)
ii. As men treasure up the wrath of God against them, what holds back the flood of wrath? God Himself! He holds it back out of His forbearance and longsuffering! “The figure is that of a load that God bears, which men heap up more and more, making heavier and heavier. The wonder of it all is that God holds any of it up even for a day; yet he holds up all its weight and does not let it crash down on the sinner’s head.” (Lenski)
e. In the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God: In the first coming of Jesus the loving character of God was revealed with greatest emphasis. At the second coming of Jesus the righteous judgment of God will be revealed most clearly.
3. (6-10) God will judge the moralist because their works also fall short of God’s perfect standard.
Who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
a. Will render to each one according to his deeds: This is an awesome and fearful thought, and it condemns the moralist as well as the obvious sinner.
b. Eternal life to those: If someone genuinely did good at all times, he could merit eternal life of his own accord – but there is none, because all, in some way or another are, have been, or will be self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness.
c. Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil: Because all fall short of this standard of God’s constant goodness, God’s wrath will come to all who do evil – without respect to whether they are Jew or Gentile.
i. This judgment comes to the Jew first. If they are first in line for the gospel (Romans 1:16) and first in line for reward (Romans 2:10), then they are also first in line for judgment.
ii. The word indignation comes from the idea of “boiling up,” thus having the sense of a passionate outburst. The word wrath comes from the idea of a swelling which eventually bursts, and applies more to an anger that proceeds from one’s settled nature.
B. God’s judgment upon the Jewish man.
1. (11-13) God’s principle of impartiality.
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;
a. For there is no partiality with God: The word translated partiality comes from two ancient Greek words put together – to receive and face. It means to judge things on the basis of externals or preconceived notions.
i. Some ancient rabbis taught that God showed partiality towards the Jews. They said: “God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another.”
b. For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified: God’s righteous judgment is not withheld because someone has heard the law; it is only held back if someone actually does the law.
i. The Jewish person – or the religious person – may think that he is saved because he has the law; but has he kept it? The Gentile may think that he is saved because he does not have the law, but has he kept the dictates of his own conscience?
ii. “People will be condemned, not because they have the law or do not have the law, but because they have sinned.” (Morris)
c. As many as have sinned without law will also perish without law: Judgment for sin can come with or without the law.
2. (14-16) Possession of the law is no advantage to the Jewish man in the Day of Judgment.
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.
a. Although not having the law, are a law to themselves: Paul explains why the Gentile can be condemned without the law. Their conscience (which is the work of the law written in their hearts) is enough to condemn them – or, theoretically this law on the heart is enough to justify them.
i. Written in their hearts: Many pagan authors of Paul’s day referred to the “unwritten law” within man. They thought of it as something that pointed man to the right way. Though it is not embodied in written laws, it is in some ways more important than the written law.
ii. A law to themselves does not mean that these “obedient Gentiles” made up their own law (as we use the expression “a law unto himself”), but that they were obedient to conscience, the work of the law residing in themselves.
iii. “He indeed shows that ignorance is in vain pretended as an excuse by the Gentiles, since they prove by their own deeds that they have some rule of righteousness.” (Calvin)
b. Their thoughts accusing or else excusing them: In theory, a man might be justified (“excused”) by obeying his conscience. Unfortunately, every man has violated his conscience (God’s internal revelation to man), just as every man has violated God’s written revelation.
i. While Paul says in Romans 2:14 that a Gentile, may by nature do the things contained in the law he is careful to not say that a Gentile could fulfill the requirements of the law by nature.
ii. Though God has His work within every man (resulting in conscience), man can corrupt that work, so that conscience varies from person to person. We also know that our conscience can become damaged through sin and rebellion, but then can be restored in Jesus.
iii. If our conscience is condemning us wrongly, we can take comfort in the idea that God is greater than our heart (1 John 3:20).
c. Their conscience also bearing witness: People who have never heard God’s word directly still have a moral compass they are accountable to – the conscience.
i. “God is describing how He has constituted all men: there is a ‘work’ within them, making them morally conscious.” (Newell)
ii. “He is not saying that the law is written on their hearts, as people often say, but that the work of the law, what the law requires of people, is written there.” (Morris)
d. The day when God will judge: On this day no man will escape God’s judgment by claiming ignorance of His written revelation. Violating God’s internal revelation is enough to condemn us all.
i. “God therefore will judge all nations according to the use and abuse they have made of this word, whether it was written in the heart, or written on tables of stone.” (Clarke)
e. According to my gospel: Notice that the day of judgment was a part of Paul’s gospel. He did not shrink from declaring man’s absolute accountability to God.
i. “‘My gospel.’ Does not this show his courage? As much as to say, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God onto salvation to every one that believeth.’ He says, ‘my gospel,’ as a soldier speaks of ‘my colors,’ or of ‘my king.’ He resolves to bear this banner to victory, and to serve this royal truth even to the death.” (Spurgeon)
f. God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ: This concept is distinctively Christian. The Jews taught that God the Father alone would judge the world, committing judgment to no one – not even the Messiah.
3. (17-20) The boast of the Jewish man.
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
a. Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law: Every “boast” of the Jewish man in this passage concerns the possession of law. The Jewish people of Paul’s day were extremely proud and confident in the fact that God gave His holy law to them as a nation. They believed this confirmed their status as a specially chosen people, and thus insured their salvation.
b. Having the form of knowledge: Although the Jew should gratefully receive the law as a gift from God, Paul will show how mere possession of the law justifies no one.
4. (21-24) The indictment against the Jewish man.
You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.
a. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? It comes down to this principle: “You have the law, do you keep it? You can see how others break the law, do you see how you break it also?”
i. Much of the rabbinic Judaism of Paul’s day interpreted the law so that they thought they were completely justified by the law. Jesus exposed the error of such interpretations (Matthew 5:19-48).
ii. God applies His law to both our actions and our attitudes. Sometimes we only want our attitudes evaluated, and sometimes only our actions. God will hold us accountable for both motives and actions.
iii. “Hypocrites can talk of religion, as if their tongues did run upon patterns, they are fair professors, but foul sinners; as was that carnal cardinal Cremensis, the pope’s legate, sent hither, A.D. 1114, to interdict priests’ marriages, and being taken in the act with a common strumpet, he excused it by saying he was no priest himself, but a corrector of them.” (Trapp)
b. You who abhor idols, do you rob temples: Morris speaks to the idea of robbing temples. “Clearly some people held that a Jew might well make profits from dishonest practices connected with idolatry, and Paul may well have had this in mind.”
c. The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you: Paul reminds the Jew that God said in the Old Testament that the failure of the Jew to obey the law causes Gentiles to blaspheme God.
5. (25-29) The irrelevance of circumcision.
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
a. For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law: Paul recognizes that a Jew may protest and say that his salvation is based on the fact that he is a descendant of Abraham, proven by circumcision. Paul rightly answers that this is irrelevant in regard to justification.
i. The Jew believed that his circumcision guaranteed his salvation. He might be punished in the world to come, but could never be lost.
ii. In Paul’s day, some Rabbis taught that Abraham sat at the entrance of hell and made certain that none of his circumcised descendants went there. Some Rabbis also taught “God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another” and “All Israelites will have part in the world to come.” (Barclay)
iii. Circumcision (or baptism – or any ritual in itself) doesn’t save anyone. In the ancient world the Egyptians also circumcised their boys but it did not make them followers of the true God. Even in Abraham’s day Ishmael (the son of the flesh) was circumcised, but it did not make him a son of the covenant.
iv. Circumcision and baptism do about the same thing that a label on a can does. If the outer label doesn’t match with what is on the inside, something is wrong! If there are carrots inside the can, you can put a label that says “Peas” but it doesn’t change what is inside the can. Being born again changes what is inside the can, and then you can put the appropriate label on the outside.
v. Of course, this is not a new thought. The Law of Moses itself teaches this principle: Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer (Deuteronomy 10:16).
b. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law: If a Gentile were to keep the righteous requirement of the law through his conscience (as Romans 2:15 shows), would he not be justified, instead of the circumcised Jewish man who did not keep the law? The point is emphasized: having the law or having a ceremony isn’t enough. God requires righteousness.
i. Morris quoting Manson: “If they are loyal to the good they know, they will be acceptable to God; but it is a very big ‘if’.”
c. And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? This is God’s answer to the one who says, “What about the Pygmy in Africa who has never heard the gospel?” God will judge that Pygmy by what he has heard, and how he has lived by it. Of course, this means that the Pygmy will be guilty before God, because no one has perfectly lived by their conscience, or perfectly responded to what we can know of God through creation.
i. The problem of the “innocent native” is that we can’t find an innocent native anywhere.
ii. “What about the Pygmy in Africa who hasn’t heard the gospel?” is a good question, but there are two far more important questions:
· What about you who hear the gospel, but reject it? What excuse is there for you?
· What about you, who are commanded to take the gospel to that Pygmy in Africa (Matthew 28:19), but refuse to do it?
d. Whose praise is not from men but from God: All the outward signs of religion may earn us praise from men, but they will not earn us praise from God. The evidence of our rightness with God is not contained in outward signs or works, and it is not assured because of our parentage. The evidence is found in the work of God in our heart which shows itself in fruit.
e. William Newell summarizes Romans 2 with “Seven Great Principles of God’s Judgment” that are worth noting:
· God’s judgment is according to truth (Romans 2:2).
· God’s judgment is according to accumulated guilt (Romans 2:5).
· God’s judgment is according to works (Romans 2:6).
· God’s judgment is without partiality (Romans 2:11).
· God’s judgment is according to performance, not knowledge (Romans 2:13).
· God’s judgment reaches the secrets of the heart (Romans 2:16).
· God’s judgment is according to reality, not religious profession (Romans 2:17-29).
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission