A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 2:1-16
In the last blog post, we talked about how the entire human race needs salvation because of its sinfulness and wickedness. In Romans 1, Paul was seemingly pointing his finger at the obvious sinner, and some of the most notorious sins. But what about generally ‘good’ people, people who try to live by a moral standard and seem to be doing a pretty good job of it? I’m sure we could all name some good people in the world, couldn’t we?
Paul’s purpose in talking about the most obvious sinners and their sins was to demonstrate, and give us some real imagery of, what God’s anger is directed at. Now in Romans 2:1, Paul suggests that people are congratulating themselves because they are not like the people Paul was describing. But now Paul begins to address these good and moral people.
No One Can Earn Our Salvation
In Luke 18: 10-14, Jesus has this same mindset when he spoke of the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his time) who felt proud about not being cheaters, or sinners, or tax collectors. Many among the Jewish people of Paul’s day were typically “moral” people, and they considered themselves better than others who were not chosen by God and given his Laws.
Paul now turns to these moral people and informs them that, whoever judges, does these same things. Paul is not accusing them of being judgmental, but rather he is saying that when we judge another person, we acknowledging that there is a higher standard outside of ourselves. God’s standard. And that standard condemns everyone, not only the obvious sinner.
Paul is not saying that we are guilty of judging others, but rather that we are guilty of doing the same things. We aren’t necessarily guilty of the identical actions, but our conduct is the same in that we all sin against God. All sin is sin to God, although the individual acts of sin differs.
No One is Blameless
Verse 2 tells us that no one can escape God’s punishment and verse 3 tells us that, since we are aware of God’s standard and justice – evidenced by the fact that we judge others – we too are without excuse.
In verse 4, I feel the New Living Translation (NLT) doesn’t use strong enough language. It simply asks the reader, ‘Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerate and patient God is? Can’t you see?‘ This wording might be misunderstood as mere ignorance or a lack of understanding. But the New International Version (NIV) translates this as, ‘Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience?’.
And the New King James Version (NKJV) translates it this way ‘Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering?‘. Rather than simple ignorance, or a lack of understanding, we show contempt and even despise his kindness, tolerance, and patience. And Paul points out here that moral people presume that God should show them kindness, tolerance, and patience – that they deserve these things. But Paul says that God’s undeserved kindness, tolerance, and patience towards us should bring us into humble repentance, rather produce an attitude of superiority.
God Shows Everyone His Underserved Kindness
Now you might be asking how has God shown us kindness, tolerance and patience?
- God shows us kindness because he has not judged us for our past sins.
- God shows us tolerance for our present sin as he continues to hold back his judgment.
- And God shows us patience regarding our future sin – he knows that we will go on sinning and yet he continues to hold back his judgment against us.
Knowing how great God’s kindness is, it is a great sin to presume that we deserve it – yet we all so easily come to believe this.
How We Should Respond to God’s Kindness
What is the right perspective to have about God’s kindness?
- God has been better to us than we deserve.
- God has shown us kindness when we have ignored him.
- God has shown us kindness when we have mocked him.
- God is perfectly willing to forgive us, and he is not a cruel God – We can safely surrender to him.
- We should choose to serve and obey God simply out of gratitude.
Our response to his kindness should be repentance. What does repentance mean? It is the act of turning away from our sin. It is often confused with the negative feelings of remorse, or a deep sorrow for our sin. But it is truly a positive act of turning to a new life in Christ and turning away from a life of sin.
God Requires Repentance
Verse 5 tells us that because the moral person refuses to see themselves as sinful and repent of their sins, they are storing up terrible punishment for themselves. So while the ‘good’ person thinks he is storing up merit and can earn his way into heaven, he is actually storing up wrath.
Also notice in verse 5, that it says that a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Notice that through Jesus’ first coming, God revealed his righteousness to mankind – the loving character of God was revealed. But in Jesus’ second coming, God’s righteous judgment and wrath will be revealed.
Verse 6 tells us that God will judge everyone according to what they have done. This is a terrifying and sobering statement because it condemns all people, the obviously wicked people and the people perceived as ‘good’.
Living Perfectly is Not Possible
Verse 7 is a little tricky to understand at first glance. It states, ‘He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers’. This at first leads you to think that there may be some people good enough to earn God’s favor. But what Paul is really saying is that, if anyone could possibly do good all the time – no exceptions – live a perfect, sinless life, then they could earn eternal life. But obviously, this is an impossible achievement.
Verse 8 tells us that people live for themselves, refuse to obey the truth, and live lives of wickedness, which justly deserves God’s anger and judgment.
Verses 9-10 tell us that there will be trouble and calamity for anyone who keeps on doing what is evil; but there would be glory, honor and peace for all those who do good – however there are none. Paul is restating that there would be reward for those who continuously do good in order to demonstrate that God is both just and fair. If a person truly was sinless and perfect their entire life, they could earn God’s favor. God is not unfair in condemning mankind because of their sin. We justly deserve God’s judgment.
There is No Favoritism
In verse 11, Paul is saying that God does not show favoritism, and that both the Jews and the Gentiles will receive their just reward.
In verses 12-15, Paul explains why both the Jews and the Gentiles deserve judgment. Paul says neither of them are without excuse. First, the Jews, who had direct knowledge of God, who were given God’s laws, as his chosen people, are judged because they failed to obey them.
Second, the Gentiles, who may claim ignorance about God and His laws, are also without excuse because they show that they know God’s laws when they instinctively obey them even without having heard them. They demonstrate that God’s laws, God’s moral code and standard, have been written in their hearts and consciences.
Since we were created in God’s image and part of that image means being imprinted with God’s moral code, we all know right from wrong without ever being told. We are without excuse.
Why Did God Choose Israel?
Now I just wanted to go off track a bit, and briefly discuss why the Jews were chosen by God and given his laws. The Bible tells us that God loves the world – he loves us all. So why select one nation to be his special people?
God chose the Israelites for a special purpose. He offered them an opportunity to become the model nation of his way of life for all nations, so that people could have his blessing. God also chose the Israelites to be a light for the rest of the world. There are many times when the entire world became extremely wicked (like the time of Noah and the great flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah), but God used the Israelites to bring himself glory and point people back to God and his ways.
Jesus Is Our Salvation
Verse 16 tells us that there is a judgment day coming and that nothing can be hidden from God. But it says that God will judge the world through Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus Christ that we find salvation, and it will be through Jesus Christ that the world will find final judgment. The Bible tells us that on that day, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10). But by everyone, the Bible doesn’t mean every follower of Jesus, but the entire world. When it becomes too late for many to repent, they will have no choice but to bow before the one and only King of Kings.
My hope is that this blog will bless you, and I sincerely pray that if you don’t know Christ, you will put your trust in him. You won’t regret it!
The Grace Awakening by Charles R. Swindoll – This book calls all Christians to wake up and reject living in legalistic, performance-oriented bondage. The God of the universe has given us an amazing, revolutionary gift of grace and freedom.