Romans Chapter 2

VERSE 1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:15).

While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses (Numbers 15:32-36).

We know that Israel were to appoint judges to uphold and enforce the Law of Moses.

They were also required to curb lawlessness by purging the evil from among them, – which included the punishment of transgressors.

The Law says: You shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14). And: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbour–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death (Leviticus 20:10).

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:1-11).

Did Jesus bring mercy and forgiveness by simply brushing aside the Law and punishment?

Would that not encourage lawlessness?

These are some of the questions which Paul anticipated when writing this letter to the Romans explaining the good news of the mercy and forgiveness found through faith in Jesus – as we will examine in more detail in chapter 6.

For example in chapter 6 Paul poses the question: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1). And: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? (Romans 6:15)

However, Paul’s purpose at first is to show that all men have sinned, whether Jews who were entrusted with the Law of Moses, or whether Gentiles who relied upon their consciences.

A dangerous destructive distortion of Paul’s teaching would suggest that in consideration that we are all sinners saved by God’s grace – that we may go on sinning which would make God’s grace into a license for sin.

However, the point which Paul intended to make at this stage of his letter – is that all have sinned and are deserving of death by the standard of God’s righteous judgement – and that if sinners condemn other sinners – they are condemning themselves.

The Jews quite commonly believed that by them having been entrusted with the Law of Moses they would be vindicated (justified) by the LORD as being righteous – and that the ignorant pagan nations would be condemned in their sin and idolatry as being wicked.

However, in explaining the gospel (as will become more evident in the following chapters of Romans), the apostle Paul contends that according to God’s righteous judgement all men, Jew and Gentile, have sinned and are therefore in need of God’s mercy and salvation which is only through faith in Jesus Christ – and it is wicked for condemned sinners to be faithless by ignoring or rejecting the gospel message of God’s mercy and salvation.

VERSES 2-8 Now we know that God’s judgement against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgement on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgement? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgement will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

In my introduction to our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, I reminded you of the apostle Peter’s word of caution – that some ignorant and unstable people distort Paul’s teaching as they do the other Scriptures to their own destruction, here again, in verses 2 to 8, is where such distortions arise.

Paul quoted from Psalm 62:12 – Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.

Paul taught that: To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

However, as we shall see when we get to chapter 4, there the apostle Paul wrote:

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

And in chapter 6 Paul wrote: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If we cannot earn eternal life – which is a free gift – given: to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked,…

Then has not the apostle contradicted himself and the gospel by first writing in chapter 2 – and suggested that people are able to do good for which they will be rewarded with eternal life:

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

Let us pause there for a moment and let me draw your attention to what Paul wrote in verse 13:

VERSE 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

The man went on and inquired: 18 “Which ones?” Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19 honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth (Matthew 19:17-22).

Paul was a zealous Jewish Pharisee and he testified that as for legalistic righteousness, he was faultless (Philippians 3:6).

However, even pious, moral people who may be faultless as far as legalistic righteousness is concerned are sinful by nature – and are obligated by the Law of Moses to believe in the Messiah-Redeemer whom God would send into the world.

For even in being faultless as far as legalistic righteousness is concerned, people are fallen, they have been exiled from the Garden of Eden in which is the tree of life – and they are subject to sin and death, in other words, they do not have eternal life and in their self-righteous pride they are more likely to condemn other rather than to show mercy.

Adam forfeited eternal life by disobeying the LORD – and eternal life may only be found through repentance and faithful obedience to the word of God – Jesus is the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

The mercy and forgiveness which comes through faith in Jesus – does not brush aside the Law and punishment, it calls men to repentance and to the obedience that comes from faith (Romans 1:5) – faith comes by hearing and obeying the Word of God.

…they asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).

Let me remind you that it was written in the Law that the LORD said that he would put his word in the mouth of the Messiah and that the people would be required to listen to the word of God spoken by Jesus or they would be called to give account for their disobedience (Deuteronomy 18:18).

Most people think of doing good or doing evil according to a list of rules and regulations – or by observing a law written in stone – or observing a certain moral principles etc.

However, the starting place of doing what is right in the sight of God is to worship him by giving his word the prominent place in our hearts and minds – in other words faith comes by hearing the word of God and righteousness comes by faith and obedience to the word of God.

It was through rejecting God’s Word in the first place that people were handed over to the deceiver, so that they became slaves of unrighteousness, sin, rebellion and ultimately death.

The first “good” and noble thing which the Lord requires of all people is to repent of their own rebellious will of going their own way, and to listen to his word as it has been revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

As Paul taught in chapter 1 – as people exchanged the glory of the invisible God for tangible images that could be seen with their carnal eyes, they were handed over to the god of this age so that they became slaves to the fallen sinful nature from which they needed to be redeemed.

To do what is good and right in the sight of God, is not to hide from God because he exposes our sin and rebellion, but to come to him and be transformed by the power of his Word that works in those who believe the message, the good news, of his salvation through faith in Jesus the Messiah whom God sent into this fallen world to redeem sinners.

All men have sinned – but to persist in doing evil is to rebel against and reject the living Word of God which alone is able to save us.

VERSES 9-13 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favouritism. 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

The gospel is a two edged sword – a message which brings life and salvation to those who accept and believe it, but judgment and condemnation to those who rebel and reject it. All of the requirements of the Law were put in place until faith was to be revealed through the coming of Jesus Christ.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Galatians 3:23-25).

They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:10-12).

Many Jews even to this day are most indignant when they perceive that Jesus seemed to elevate his authority even above that of the written Law.

For example Jesus said, You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment”. And : “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-28).

Jews recognize Moses as the mediator through whom the LORD gave the Law. But those who become indignant and rebel against Jesus’ authority, forget, or ignore, that the LORD said to Moses that he would send a Prophet like Moses who would speak the Word of God and that the people would be required to listen to him.

The good news is that Jesus is the Prophet like Moses through whom salvation has come.

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:44-45).

The first Christians were the redeemed remnant from among the Jews who recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, the Prophet who was to come – and they received the gift of eternal life even if many died as martyrs for their faith.

Remember from chapter 1, Paul taught that the gospel was first for the Jew, then for the gentile…

The good news went forth from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria – and then to the ends of the earth.

Jesus told his disciples to flee from Jerusalem because the city was to destined to fall under God’s judgment because most of the people had failed to recognize that God had come to them in the person of Jesus Christ to be their King and Redeemer.

Indeed the gospel came first to the Jew and then to the gentiles and tribulation too, came first for the Jew and it is destined to come upon every human being before the close of the age.

VERSES 9-10 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile..

Jerusalem was also the first city to fall under God’s wrath for their rejection of Jesus Christ and the gospel of the kingdom of God – and to this day it serves as a warning of the coming wrath of God and of how judgment suddenly comes upon those who rebel – and who will perish in their foolish unbelief.

Later in this letter Paul encouraged us all to know that even if we suffer in this world as Christians it is only for a short while and with the eyes of faith Paul considered that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).

The Jews boasted in that they had the Law, but it was the very Law which testified against them that they were sinners by nature and in need of atonement and God’s mercy.

So Paul went on to explain: VERSES 14-16 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

Those who acknowledge their sin – and instead of hardening their hearts in defiant pride and self-righteousness, will in their humility receive the revelation of the word of God that was fully manifested in Jesus Christ – through which they will do what the Law requires which is to believe in the One whom God sent to be Saviour and King.

As Paul reminded the Galatians – it was not through trying to establish a legalistic-righteousness of their own through legal observance of the Law – by which they received the promised Holy Spirit, but by their believing the good news of God’s purpose of saving sinners through Jesus the Messiah whom God sent. Yet even after they had received the Holy Spirit, some false teachers tried to compel them to observe the Law:

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Galatians 3:2-3).

And – as Paul taught later in this letter to the Romans, chapter 9 verses 30-33:

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith (i.e. believing in the One whom God has sent); 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works (of the Law). They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

VERSES 17-24 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Once again, let me remind you that the Jews, in having been entrusted with the Law, tended to confidently trust in their own legalistic self-righteousness by which they thought that they would be justified and they also tended to look down on the pagan nations – believing that they would be condemned in God’s wrath.

What value was there in being circumcised – surely it was the mark in the flesh signifying that one was in a unique covenantal relationship with the LORD which also commanded obedience and faithfulness.

This brings us to the closing verses of chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and to the opening question of chapter 3:

VERSES 25-28 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. 28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

The LORD declared through the prophet Jeremiah: The days are coming when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh– 26 Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).

As we noted in the introduction to our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans: The church in Rome was founded by Jews and converts to Judaism who had been gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost where they first heard the gospel and received the promised Holy Spirit.

The way in which gentiles converted to Judaism under the old covenant was through circumcision and accepting the yoke of the Law.

It was written in the Law of Moses that: The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Jesus is the Prophet like Moses – and the circumcision of the new covenant is the circumcision of the heart – as was foretold in the Law of Moses.

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).

For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh– 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence (Philippians 3:3-4).

So as we anticipate our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we may note that the next chapter commences with the following question:

ROMANS 3:1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?

After almost two-thousand years since the new covenant church has grown separately from the synagogue which still tries to hold to – and observe the old covenant, one may now ask, perhaps anticipating a qualified response slightly different to what Paul proposed in his letter to the church in Rome – that circumcision and Judaism has now come to represent a stubborn rejection of Jesus Christ and the circumcision of the heart done by him through the work of the Holy Spirit.