God's Judgment and the Law
Rom 2:12 For as many as sinned without Law will also perish without Law. And as many as have sinned within Law shall be judged through Law.
Rom 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
Rom 2:14 For when the nations, who do not have the Law, do by nature the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law unto themselves;
Rom 2:15 who show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and the thoughts between one another accusing or even excusing one another,
Rom 2:16 in a day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Rom 2:17 Behold, you are called a Jew, and rest in the Law, and boast in God;
Rom 2:18 and know His will and approve the things excelling, being instructed out of the Law;
Rom 2:19 and persuading yourselves to be a guide of the blind, a light to those in darkness;
Rom 2:20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, who have the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law.
Rom 2:21 Therefore the one teaching another, do you not teach yourself? The one preaching not to steal, do you steal?
Rom 2:22 The one saying not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? The one detesting idols, do you rob temples?
Rom 2:23 You who boast in Law, do you dishonor God through breaking the Law?
Rom 2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you, as it is written.
Rom 2:25 For circumcision truly profits if you keep the Law, but if you are a transgressor of the Law, circumcision becomes uncircumcision.
God’s judgment upon the Jew.
Partiality comes from two ancient Greek words put together - to receive and face. It means to judge things on the basis of externals or pre-conceived notions.
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.”
God’s righteous judgment is not withheld because someone has heard the law; it is only held back if someone actually does the law.
The Jew - 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?
“People will be condemned, not because they have the law or do not have the law, but because they have sinned.” (Morris)
Judgment for sin can come with or without the law.
(Rom_2:14-16) Possession of the law is no advantage to the Jew 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.
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 - or, theoretically, enough to justify - them.
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 points us to the right way. Though it is not embodied in written laws, it is in many ways more important than written laws.
A law to themselves does not mean that these “obedient Gentiles” made up their own law (as we use the expression “law unto himself”), but that they were obedient to conscience, the work of the law residing in themselves.
“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)
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.
While Paul says in Rom_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.
Though God has His work within every man (resulting in conscience), man can corrupt that work, so that conscience varies from person to person, and our consciences can be damaged, and even restored in Christ.
If our conscience is condemning us wrongly, we can take comfort in the idea that God is greater than our heart. (1Jn_3:20)
Their conscience also bearing witness: People who have never heard God’s word directly still have a moral compass that they are accountable to - the conscience.
“God is describing how He has constituted all men: there is a ‘work’ within them, making them morally conscious.” (Newell)
“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)
On the day when God will judge the secrets of men, no man can find refuge from God’s judgment by claiming ignorance of His written revelation; violation of God’s internal revelation is enough to condemn us all.
“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)
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.
“‘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)
The idea that God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ is distinctively Christian. The Jews taught that God the Father alone would judge the world, committing judgment to no one - not even the Messiah.
(Rom_2:17-20) The boast of the Jew.
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.
Every “boast” of the Jew 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.
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.
(Rom_2:21-24) The indictment of the Jew.
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.
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?”
Remember that much of rabbinical 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. (Mat_5:19-48)
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.
“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)
You who abhor idols, do you rob temples: Morris on 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.”
The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you: Paul reminds the Jew that God has said in the Old Testament that the failure of the Jew to obey the law has caused the Gentile to blaspheme God.
(Rom_2:25-29) 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.
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.
The Jew believed that his circumcision guaranteed his salvation. He might be punished in the world to come, but could never be lost.
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.”
Circumcision (or baptism - or any ritual in itself) doesn't save anyone. In the ancient world, 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.
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 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.
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. (Deu_10:16)
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 Rom_2:15 shows) within his heart, would he not be justified, instead of the circumcised Jew who did not keep the law? The point is emphasized: having the law or having a ceremony isn't enough. God requires righteousness.
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’.”
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.
The problem of the “innocent native” is that we can’t find an innocent native anywhere.
“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 (Mat_28:19), but refuse to do it?
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 hearts, which shows itself in fruit.
William Newell summarizes Romans 2 with “Seven Great Principles of God’s Judgment” that are worth noting:
• God’s judgment is according to truth (Rom_2:2)
• God’s judgment is according to accumulated guilt (Rom_2:5)
• God’s judgment is according to works (Rom_2:6)
• God’s judgment is without partiality (Rom_2:11)
• God’s judgment is according to performance, not knowledge (Rom_2:13)
• God’s judgment reaches the secrets of the heart (Rom_2:16)
• God’s judgment is according to reality, not religious profession (Rom_2:17-29)
Next week We will start Chapter 3 of this great letter to Rome.