ROMANS STUDY – SESSION 3

Romans 2:1-16

 

After the introduction to his letter to the church in Rome in Roman 1:1-17, Paul begins the main body of the letter by focusing on our need for salvation.  Romans 1:18-3:20 is a graphic description of human sinfulness and guilt before God.  In this section of Romans Paul establishes that:

  • Gentiles are guilty before God (1:18-28)
  • Jews are guilty before God (2:1-3:8)
  • All people are guilty before God (3:9-3:20)

Paul begins the letter with an extensive discussion of sin because it is imperative to understand our guilt before we can understand God’s response to our guilt.

 

In the previous session we focused on the guilt of the Gentiles in Romans 1:18-32.  We saw that the beginning point of sin is idolatry (1:18­­-23) which leads to immorality (1:24-27) which results in open defiance of God (1:28-32).  Having firmly established the guilt of the Gentiles, Paul turns to the guilt of the Jews beginning with chapter 2. 

 

Jews are Guilty Before God (2:1-3:8)

In chapter 2 Paul says, in effect, to the unbelieving Jews, “It is easy for you to look at the excesses and abuses of the pagan Greek/Roman culture and condemn such things, saying that those who practice them will be judged by God.  But in eagerness to judge them, you also judge yourselves, because you are also guilty before God.”  While the Jewish rebellion against God may not have been as open and while it may not have taken the form of the kind of gross acts described in Romans 1, it was real nonetheless.  Listen to how one writer put it:

         “…not all rebellion against God takes the form of pagan debauchery.  This is why those who equate lostness with degradation may conclude too quickly that they are rightly related to God.  There is a form of lostness that has a religious appearance.  It does not look like rebellion against God, because of its concern with religious matters.  And yet one may retain an unrepentant heart toward God close to the altar.”

 

That is the kind of lostness Paul addresses in this section.  There is some debate among Bible scholars concerning whom Paul is addressing in the first part of Romans 2.  Some say these verses are directed toward “moral pagans” who do not practice the kind of immoral things listed in the last part of chapter 1.  However, the weight of scholarship seems to come down on the side that in chapter 2 Paul is addressing Jews who were quick to agree with all that Paul wrote in chapter 1 and who were more than happy to condemn the sins of the pagan Gentiles.  The Jews would readily agree that those people described in chapter 1 deserved the judgment of God.  To them Paul says, “Not so fast!  Not only do they deserved to be judged, but so do you!”S

 

In Romans 2:1-16 Paul sets forth some basic principles of God’s judgment that apply to all people.

Principle 1 – God, and only God, is qualified to judge.

Look at verse 1 - "Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”  In that list of more that twenty sins in Romans 1:29-31 at which we looked last week, there is at least one thing of which every person is guilty.  The point is, not one of us is innocent before God.  And that reality disqualifies all of us from setting ourselves as the judge of others.  While our sins may not be the same as someone else’s sins, they are real just the same. 

            This  passage makes it clear that God, and only God, is capable and qualified to judge.  If you look carefully at these verses you will see that is a recurring theme.  Three times in this passage the phrase “judgment of God” is used (vv. 2, 3, & 5).  And then in verse 16 we are told, “…God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

            We would do well to remember the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:  “DO NOT JUDGE LEST YOU BE JUDGED.  FOR IN  THE  WAY YOU JUDGE, YOU WILL BE JUDGED; AND BY YOUR  STANDARD OF MEASURE, IT WILL BE MEASURED TO YOU.  AND WHY DO YOU LOOK AT THE SPECK THAT IS IN  YOUR  BROTHER'S EYE,  BUT DO NOT NOTICE THE LOG THAT IS IN  YOUR  OWN EYE?” (Matthew 7:1-3)

 

Principle 2 – God’s judgment is certain and inescapable.

            Notice the question Paul asks in verse 3 about them supposing they would “…escape the judgment of God.”  Among the Jews in the first century there was a belief that somehow Jewish people would be exempt from the judgment of God.  Dr. Curtis Vaughan points out two commonly held beliefs among Palestinian Jews:

·        That Abraham stationed himself at the gates of Gehenna to make sure that no circumcised Israelite would go into hell.

·        That a common saying among the Jews was, “He that has his permanent abode in Palestine is sure of life to come.”

Paul warns the Jews in verse 4 not to presume on the “kindness and forbearance and patience” that God had displayed toward Israel.  The purpose of God’s kindness toward them was to lead them to repentance!  Just as the Gentiles, the Jews stand under the certain judgment of God.

 

Principle 3 – God’s judgment is fair.

            Verse 2 says “…that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things…” or more literally, “…God’s judgment is according to the truth.”  His judgment is not arbitrary.  It is not based on whim.  It is not based on one’s position or privilege.  It is based on fact.  God does not have one standard for one person or group and another standard for another person or group. 

In verse 11 Paul declares that “…there is no partiality with God.”  That would have been a very shocking statement to the Jews.  They felt that they deserved special privilege because they had been give the Law.  But actually, their possession of the Law made the more responsible not less responsible.  The main point Paul makes in verses 12-16 is that in fairness God’s judgment will take into account the degree of revelation a person has.  The Gentiles, who have only natural revelation (the inward and outward natural revelation mentioned in Romans 1:19) will be judged according to the revelation they have.  The Jews, who have the fuller revelation of the Law, will be judged according to the revelation they have.  But all people have been given enough of God’s revelation to be judged in fairness.

 

Principle 4 – God’s judgment is not always immediate.

            An interesting thing is said about judgment in verse 5.  There Paul tells the Jews that “…because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteousness of God.”   The verb “storing up” is from the same root word as “treasure.”  The idea is that they were saving or putting aside by their actions wrath.  The day will come when God will open the account and the wrath or judgment will be dumped on them.

This statement answers question of why evil people sometimes seem to prosper  and  avoid judgment of  God.  The avoidance of God’s judgment is only temporary.  We have not yet seen the final verdict.  The time will come when all people will get their just reward.  

 

Principle 5 – God’s judgment determines our eternal destiny.

            One of the striking things about passage is the different destinies of those who are judged.  That can be seen in verses 7 & 8.  Verse 7 says that for some judgment results in “…glory and honor and immortality, eternal life…”  And verse 8 says that for others judgment results in “…wrath and indignation…”  Why the difference?  Verse 6 tells us that God “…will render to everyman according to his deeds.”  Verses 9 & 10 expand on that idea saying that those who have done “evil” will experience “tribulation and distress” and those who have done “good” will experience “glory and honor and peace.”

            What are we to make of that?  Is Paul saying we are saved by doing good works?  Is the key to eternal life obeying the law?  It is obvious from the entire New Testament and from the main thesis of Romans that is not what is being taught here.  This letter was written to proclaim the idea of justification by faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 5:1).   But the point here is that genuine faith is always expressed by the way we live.  If we live immoral lives, flaunting God’s law, that is an indication that we are not a person of faith.  If we live moral lives, obeying God, that is an indication that we are a person of  faith.  That does not mean we never stumble and fall.  But it when we do, we confess it, seek God’s forgiveness, do all that we can to right the wrong we have done, and move on living for God.  The life of David in the Old Testament is a good example of that.

In  his excellent book on Romans entitled Riches in Romans,  Harper  Shannon said it this way: “IT  IS  NOT ENOUGH TO INTELLECTUALLY ACCEPT THE   ORTHODOX TEACHINGS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.  IT IS NOT ENOUGH      TO GIVE MENTAL ASSENT TO THE CARDINAL TRUTHS OF      CHRISTIANITY.   IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO MAKE LIP  SERVICE OR MERE PROFESSION OF FAITH OR EVEN TO BE  IDENTIFIED AS A CHURCH MEMBER AND A BELIEVING CHRISTIAN.  IT  IS NOT  ENOUGH UNLESS WE OBEY GOD AND  GIVE  INDICATIONS THAT  OUR FAITH IS A COMMITMENT OF HEART AND LIFE  TO JESUS  CHRIST.  THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD IS ACCORDING  TO OBEDIENCE.”

That's  what Jesus meant when He said things like, "Why do you  call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which  say?" and  "Not everyone who says to me Lord,  Lord,  shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  We are not saved by obedience, but obedience is  indication that we are saved.

 

Romans 2:17-29 focuses sthe privileges of Judaism and the greater responsibilities that accompany those privileges.  We will explore those verses in the next session.

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