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Section 3: Romans 2:1-16
God’s wrath against men as their Moral Governor
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 2, VERSES 1-16:
2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
2:2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
2:3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
2:5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
2:7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
2:8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
2:9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
2:10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
2:11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
2:12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
2:13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
2:15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Structure of the section
|3(a)||2:1-2||The judgement of God is according to truth|
|3(b)||2:3-11||The judgement of God is according to deeds|
|3(c)||2:12-15||The judgement of God is according to responsibility|
|3(d)||2:16||The judgement of God is according to the gospel|
Subject of section 3
The apostle now deals with the matter of conscience, that faculty God has given to man whereby he is able to decide on moral issues. That man is able to so decide is shown by 1:32, “knowing the judgement of God”, so he knows that sin deserves punishment. We should bear in mind when thinking of this passage, that the apostle is meeting the moraliser on his own ground, just as the Lord Jesus met the lawyer on his own ground in Luke 10:25,26. Does the man of verse one condemn the works of others? Then he must be examined as to his own works, and judged accordingly.
The passage tells us at least 9 things about the judgement of God.
2:2 Real (because according to truth=earnest, accurate).
2:3 Inescapable (if men remain unrepentant).
2:4 Avoidable (if men turn to God).
2:5 Judicial (not remedial).
2:6 Proportional (according to the degree of guilt).
2:6 Personal (for the individual is accountable to God).
2:6 Universal (“render to every man”).
2:8,9 Fearful (“it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God,” Heb. 10:31).
2:11 Impartial (God is no respecter of persons, in salvation, Acts 10:34, or judgement).
The emphasis in chapter 1 is on the reasons for His wrath, now the reality of His wrath is made known. The word used for judgement in verses 2 and 3, means a sentence or verdict of judgement after a process of investigation. The judgement in view therefore is that before the Great White Throne, Revelation 20:11-15, on “the great day,” Jude 6. Whereas in Revelation 20 we have the account of what will happen, in this chapter we are told the principles behind what will happen.
3 (a) The judgement of God is according to truth
2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things- in 1:32, men agree that sin should be judged, but they condone it in others and practise it themselves. In this verse, however, the apostle speaks to a class of men drawn from Jew and Gentile, (since he shows the danger of judgement for both, verses 9-11) who condemn sin in others, and thereby condemn themselves. The Son of God is the only one charged with the task of judging, John 5:22,23,27-29.
2:2 But we are sure that the judgement of God is according to truth against them which commit such things- i.e. the judgement of God is accurate, unbiased and real, in contrast to the warped decisions of men. Truth may be defined as “that which corresponds to reality.” Men will be judged by the unerring wisdom of God, and not by the fallible opinions of men. The very fact that sinners call for retribution when a hideous crime is committed, shows they have a sense of justice implanted within them by God when He made man in His own image.
3 (b) The judgement of God is according to deeds
2:3 And thinkest thou this O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgement of God?- “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Hebrews 2:3. Judgement is inescapable as far as unrepentant sinners are concerned. Heaven and earth flee away from His Judgement Throne, Revelation 20:11, so although they may try to hide, there will be no place to which to flee.
2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering– the goodness of God means God’s kind ways. The forbearance of God is shown when He holds back from judging. His longsuffering is shown by Him waiting long for sinners to repent. Man is entirely responsible for his refusal to turn to God.
Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?- God’s desires are for man’s salvation. God is “longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Peter 3:9. So judgement is avoidable as far as those who repent are concerned.
2:5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath- the wrath men accumulate is in direct proportion (“after” means in relation to), to the hardness of their hearts against God, and their refusal to repent.
Against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God- the judgement of the great day, Jude 6, when men are judged before the great white throne with impartial judgement, Revelation 20:11-15. The standard will not be the biased view of men, but rather God’s righteous verdict. Compare the riches of God’s goodness which He stores up for those who believe, verse 4, and the treasure of wrath accumulated for themselves by men, verse 5.
2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds- what is within the heart is expressed in actions, see Mark 7:14-23, Eccles.12:14, and those actions will receive judgement appropriate to each one, see Revelation 20:12,13. Verse 7 does not contradict later truth that justification is by faith alone, and not by works. This passage shows that Paul is in agreement with James that faith without works is dead. If a person patiently continues in well-doing, he does so because he has repented before God and been created anew, see James 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 5:17,21; 1 John 3:6-10.
2:7 To them who by patient continuation in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life- the principle that “he that doeth righteousness is righteous” holds good at all times. Only those who have a righteous nature can do righteous works, for the apostle John writes, “he that doeth righteousness is righteous”, 1 John 3:7. “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit”, Matthew 7:17. Eternal life is looked at here in its full expression in eternity. Every believer of every age possesses eternal life, the life of God, or else communion with God would not be possible. The fulness of that life awaits in the future, however, when all the corruptible things that hinder the full appreciation of it are removed at the resurrection. Immortality, as used here, means incorruptibility, the state of things that cannot decay. The true believer’s ultimate goal is to glorify and honour God in a state of eternal incorruption.
2:8,9 But unto them that are contentious- arguing against God, whether by words or deeds.
And do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness- instead of responding in obedient faith to the truth of God, they prefer to obey the dictates of their unrighteous hearts.
Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil- indignation is God’s attitude toward sin; wrath, the expression of that attitude in judgement; tribulation, what man experiences when God’s wrath is upon him; anguish, the extremity of that suffering because of wrath. “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” Matthew 24:51. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”, Hebrews 10:31.
Of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile- the Jew will be “first” in judgement because of his sin despite great privileges, see Matthew 12:41,42. Note that none are exempt from judgement, for God does not leave Himself without witness, Acts 14:17, and his eternal power and Godhead are clearly seen in creation, so men are without excuse, Romans 1:19,20.
2:10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile- glory and honour were linked with immortality in verse 7, but now with peace. The apostle first describes the turmoil and agitation of the lost in the Lake of Fire, and now contrasts it with the peace that those who know God shall enjoy eternally.
2:11 For there is no respect of persons with God- as Peter said, “of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him”, Acts 10:34,35.
3 (c) The judgement of God is according to responsibility
2:12 For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law- this does not mean men will perish in a lawless, unprincipled way, but rather, that they will perish without being called to account for having broken the written set of laws given to Israel at Sinai. Gentiles will not be judged for breaking a law they did not know about. They will perish, however, for sinning, if they did not repent, for they have the work of the law written in their hearts, verse 15.
And as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law- the Jew had the law given to him at Sinai, and that will be the test for him. As the Lord jesus said, “there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whome ye trust”, John 5:45. This is one of the reasons why the unrepentant Jew will have priority in judgement, verse 9.
The apostle now shows in verses 13-15 the principles upon which Gentiles will be judged. First, they will be judged for what their works were, verse 13. Second, they will be judged according to the fact that they had a knowledge of what the law demands not only because of what they were by nature, as God created them in His image, verses 14 and 15, but also because of what they were since the Fall, with the knowledge of good and evil, verse 15.
2:13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified- if it were possible to be justified by works, (and it is not, see 3:20), then it would be by actually doing them, not by hearing commands to do them.
2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law- “Do by nature” means by inbuilt moral instinct, implanted in man when he was made in the image and after the likeness of God, Genesis 1:26, and inherited at birth. This instinct still remains, despite the Fall, but is generally stifled in relation to self, but not so much in relation to other’s sins, verse 1.
These, having not the law, are a law unto themselves- by the process described in verse 15, where heart and conscience argue the case, and reach a verdict, thus legislating for themselves.
2:15 Which show the work of the law written in their hearts- even Gentiles know instinctively that the law of God is to be translated into action. The law written on their hearts expects a response in good works.
Their conscience also bearing witness- conscience is that faculty of mind which is able to distinguish between right and wrong.
And their thoughts meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another)- a debate goes on between the heart (which knows what should be done because God’s law is written there), and conscience, (which gives its verdict on what is done), and the result is either self-accusation or self-excuse. So the individual Gentile applies the law unto himself, even though he does not possess a written code, and by so doing is a law to himself. The apostle now resumes his line of thought from verse 12.
3 (d) The judgement of God is according to the gospel
2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel- the full revelation of how God will judge men is set out in the gospel, forming the dark background against which the announcement of the person and work of Christ is made. Just as Gentiles will not be judged according to a law they were never given, so they will not be judged by a gospel they never heard. Rather, the apostle is saying here that the judgement of God is made known now in the gospel. As we have seen, the Gentiles will be judged by their reaction to the light they had, whether from creation or conscience.
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS CHAPTER 2, VERSES 17 TO 29:
2:17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
2:18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
2:19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
2:20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
2:21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
2:22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
2:23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
2:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
2:26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
2:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Section 4 Romans 2:17-29
God’s wrath against men as their Legislator
Structure of section 4
|4(a)||2:17-20||The charge of complacency|
|4(b)||2:21-24||The charge of hypocrisy|
|4(c)||2:25-29||The charge of unreality|
Subject of section 4
The apostle now directly confronts the Jew with his lack of responsible action in the light of the privileges he has been given by God. He deals with the matter in five ways, showing conclusively that just as the heathen man of chapter 1 rejects God as Creator, and the moraliser rejects God as Moral Governor, the Jew dishonours God as the Legislator who gave the Law and the prophets for their instruction.
4(a) The charge of complacency
The Jew in relation to God:
2:17 Behold, thou art called a Jew- relying on nationality and background for favour with God.
And restest in the Law- thinking that to simply receive the Law is enough.
And makest thy boast in God- at first sight a good thing, but really this boasting was an evidence of national pride in what God had done for them. Compare the true boasting in 5:11.
2:18. And knowest His will- sure that his interpretation of the Law was correct.
And approvest the things that are more excellent- guided by the law he was able to form an opinion on moral issues, and to say with authority what was best.
The Jew in relation to Gentiles:
2:19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind- Gentiles are blind, and the Jew leads them, doing so independently of the help of God, “thou thyself art a guide”.
A light of them which are in darkness- Gentiles are in spiritual darkness, the Jew is confident that he is able to enlighten them.
2:20 An instructor of the foolish- Gentiles in Old Testament times were without the wisdom revealed in the Old Testament, therefore the Jew instructs them.
A teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth of the law- Gentiles are immature babes, the Jew trains them. Gentiles are in error, the Jew has the “form (organised system) of the Law,” and hence possesses truth. All the things mentioned in verses 17-20 are in relation to the Law of Moses. That Law directed men, but it gave no power to move in the right direction, see Romans 8:3. Instead of looking to God in faith, the Jew was content with striving to keep the observance of the Law, which caused him to be complacent and proud.
4 (b) The charge of hypocrisy
2:21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?- publicly, the Jew advanced the cause of the Law, but privately committed what he condemned in others. The descriptions of verses 19 and 20 all had the idea of teaching in them, so Paul confronts the Jew with his inconsistency. That which he teaches to another, the Jew must teach himself first. The scribes sat in Moses’ seat, but the Lord said “they say, and do not”, Matthew 23:2,3.
Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?- we may illustrate these things from the fall of David in the matter of Bathsheba, for David stole her from Uriah her husband, as Nathan the prophet declared in parable form, 2 Samuel 12:1-10.
2:22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?- David was guilty of this sin with Bathsheba.
Thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?- it was Uriah the Gentile, Bathsheba’s husband, who was concerned for the welfare of the Ark, and the Tables of the Law within it, 2 Samuel 11:11, whereas David was intent on breaking those laws, even though at his coronation he would have committed himself to upholding them. To commit sacrilege is to rob temples, but David had gone further and had robbed God.
2:23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?- the second table of the Law related to the rights of one’s neighbour, but killing, committing adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, (as David did in effect when he sent presents to Uriah, pretending he was in favour with him, 2 Samuel 11:8), and coveting one’s neighbour’s wife, all hurt a man’s neighbour. God was dishonoured as much by this, as by the breaking of the first five commandments.
2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written- see Isaiah 52:5, “My name continually every day is blasphemed”. See also 2 Samuel 12:14, where Nathan the prophet tells David that “by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme”.
4 (c) The charge of unreality
2:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law- circumcision was a physical operation on a Jew’s body with spiritual implications, and that which distinguished him from a Gentile as one who was bound to keep the law. It was only of value if the truth of separation to God and obedience to the law expressed in it was practised.
But if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision- a circumcised Jew who did not keep the law was no better than an uncircumcised Gentile.
2:26. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?- if a circumcised man can become like an uncircumcised Gentile by bad conduct, then in theory an uncircumcised Gentile can become like a circumcised Jew by good conduct. Righteousness is “all that the Law demanded as right,” which the apostle has already shown was known by Gentiles without them having tables of stone. See 2:14,15. The apostle is shaking Jewish complacency to its foundations. The Rabbis said “All the circumcised have part in the world to come”, but the apostle shows here that they were mistaken.
2:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature if it fulfil the law- Gentiles were born without the benefit of inherited privileges, yet some of them sincerely attempted to act righteously. The apostle is not saying they could completely carry out the law, but that if they did they would condemn faithless Jews.
Judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law- Jews had the Law administered nationally, (the letter of the law handed down at Sinai), and circumcision administered personally, to admit them into the community which had the law, so grew up in a sphere conducive to law-keeping, but broke it. By being content with possessing the Scriptures, (the letter), and being circumcised, they thought themselves secure, failed to depend on God, and hence transgressed the Law. They are condemned by sincere Gentiles. They had allowed the very possession of the law and circumcision to lead them to transgress the law, but only because their hearts were not right.
2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly- that is, a person living an outwardly blameless life. See Phillipians 3:6, where paul describes himself before he was saved as, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”. Saul was blameless, but only as far as men were able to tell.
Neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh- note how radical these statements are; neither outward observance of ceremonies, nor physical marking of the outside of the flesh are of any value. The Old Testament insisted on heart circumcision, which meant separation in heart from that which displeased God, and involvement in that which did. Deuteronomy 10:16- “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart.” Deuteronomy 30:6- “and the Lord God will circumcise thine heart…to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart.” Jeremiah 4:4- “circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart…” Acts 7:51- (words which Paul heard Stephen say), “ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears”.
2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly- not relying on an outward sign in the flesh, like physical circumcision, but having an inner earnestness to do God’s will. The prophets in the Old Testament had spoken like this. For instance, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams”, Samuel 15:22,23. “Whereunto shall I come before the Lord. and bow myself before the high God? Shall i come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased wsith thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee O man, what is good; And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah 6:6-8.
And circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter- a truly circumcised person is not content with mere observance of the externals of religion as detailed in the ceremonial law.
Whose praise is not of men, but of God- this is a play on the word Jew, which coming from “Judah”, means “praise,” see Genesis 29:35. Men may not appreciate the spiritual person, but God does, and commends him. If the Jew would really live up to his name, he must be changed inwardly. Some of the Pharisees were guilty of seeking the praise of men by outward observance, John 12:43.