We are continuing to show that the Reformed understanding of the Gospel is clearly shown in the Scripture and accords with Catholic tradition before the Council of Trent. In Chapter 2, Paul substantiates his case that both self-righteous gentiles and Jews have broken God’s commandments and are in need of His grace.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
Paul’s transition begins a discussion about how both Jews and gentiles are condemned alike, because both disregard the Law (via general revelation and the Mosaic Covenant) that has been revealed to them. Several statements throughout this chapter indicate this, particularly verse 9.
In the first two verses, Paul probably has in mind the Jews who would at this point be shaking their heads at the overt idolatry of the gentiles. It is possible, however, to interpret that Paul has in mind any self-righteous Jew, Gentile, or even Christian, because “you have no excuse…for in that which you judge another…you who judge practice the same things.” If anyone is honest with himself, he probably committed one of the sins between verses 29 to 32 in the last few hours.
Paul’s intention therefore is to humble us, because whether or not we know the Law or just know of the law of nature*, “we know that the judgment of God falls upon those who practice such things.” Certainly, all of us practice such things sometimes, though those of us with the Holy Spirit will not continually make a practice of such sinful behaviors: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Heb 10:26).
*You may be asking, “What is the ‘law of nature?’” In short, it is the sense of moral absolutes that we ascertain from our good sense and observation of general revelation (Rom 1:20). For example, we do not need to find it written in a stone somewhere to know that molesting and then killing a child deserves condemnation, we just know it is so. Hence, the Jewish (or Mosaic) Law is not the only thing that convicts us of sin, but also the law of nature.
The term comes from Augustine, who considered the Law and the law of nature one of the same. Both condemned man to damnation, because he never fulfills their requirements. When addressing the issue concerning whether men that never heard of Christ or the Mosaic Law can be saved by simply being good and vaguely believing in God he writes as follows:
Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: Then Christ died in vain. [Galatians 2:21] For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the LAW OF NATURE, which the whole human race has received, If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain. If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by ANY MEANS be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath— in a word, from punishment— except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ (On Nature and Grace, Chapter 2).
3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Looking down upon those who continually make a practice of such sins does not avail one from judgement. The reminder in verse 4 of God’s patience would seem out of place if we otherwise did not presume that everyone alike is under the sins listed in verses 29 through 32.
If anyone is saved, it is because God endures with sinful men and is gracious with them. He can just as easily harden the hearts of all sinful men as a just penalty for their error. Therefore, looking down upon such sinful men is to think lightly of God’s tolerance, for God has not hardened our hearts so that we would not repent. By repentance, we experience His kindness in giving us His Son to pay for those sins we just read about in verses 29 to 32. This should lead us not into judgement of such men (for we were such men and still are to a degree), but rather make us realize that would be us apart from the grace of God. Such a realization should lead us to repentance and not condemnation.
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to each person according to his deeds:
Those who are unrepentant and disbelieve God do not have their sins paid for on the cross (Col 2:14), and therefore they are storing up wrath upon their own heads. During God’s judgement, each person will be rewarded or punished according to their deeds. The Christian will not be condemned for his misdeeds because “[s]inful works are not counted against the faithful” (Theodore of Mopsuestia. Commentary From the Greek Church, 114). Their sins have been dealt with on the cross.
Clearly, to the crowd that says, “I’ve done more good than bad,” this does not sound so bad. However, let’s review thus far how man is judged. Man is judged according to his deeds against a specific standard. The Jews, as we will see are judged according to the Law while those without the Law are judged according to the law of nature.
When judged by such laws, it begs the question, what is the passing grade? Is it a speed limit and 1 MPH over is in violation of the Law? Is there leniency and is 65 percent a passing grade?
God’s revelation tells us that the Law (or natural law) must be upheld on every point, to the letter:
For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them” (Gal 3:10-12).
This is why God says in Deut 18:13, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.” God’s standard is perfection, so when we are judged according to our deeds the only way to be judged as righteous is to have done “all things” required by the Law (or law of nature).
7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God.
Those who persevere in doing good are judged according to works as righteous. Why? Because the righteous shall live by faith and they are not under the curse of the Law (or law of nature) that demands perfection. Those who disbelieve God and being given over to their own hardness of heart obey unrighteousness, God’s judgement will be that they deserve punishment.
It is very easy to see that both Jew and Greek alike who do not fulfill their respective laws should expect tribulation and distress. Yet, both Jew and Greek who seek to do good (this good living is made possible by faith) may expect immortality and peace with God. God thereby holds both Jews and Greeks alike to the same standards, for there is no partiality with God. They are equally condemned for not following their laws and equally forgiven for placing their trust in Christ and living by that faith in Him.
12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
As discussed previously, all of those who violate their respective laws at any point will perish. It is important to note that Paul does not offer a way out such as, “Only those who have sinned a lot with or without the Law will perish.” Instead, he says “all who have sinned,” which would mean even just one sin.
Paul then notes that merely knowing the Law exists (Jews and now Christians) does not make one right before God. One must “do” the Law. The Law demands that “he who practices them shall live by them.” How do we “do” the Law and save our own necks? It is by faith, which is a topic we will discuss in more detail when we reach Rom 3:31 (“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”)
14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
As we have discussed previously, the gentiles by natural revelation have the law of nature, so even without the Law, are a law to themselves. This is not a loophole that gives the heathen a different route to salvation. Far from it. Now they are alike under the curse of the Law. The Law is written in their hearts and not in the sense promised by Jeremiah (Jer 31:33), but rather they are aware of God’s perfect standards.
Just like in a cartoon where there is an angel and a devil on each shoulder representing the individual’s conscience, in Rom 2:15 the same is being described. Some interpret this verse to mean that some, by their good works, have fulfilled the law of nature and will be judged as righteous. This cannot be the case.
Certainly, the existence of the conscience, little devil, angel and all, does not commend a man to God. Rather, it works towards his condemnation, as there is no one righteous who has by the standards of his own conscience always done what he thinks is right, let alone what God thinks. Indeed, “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” by any standard (Rom 3:9).
17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God,18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,
Being a Jew, with the benefits of knowing the Law and circumcision, does not avail a man.
21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.
Knowledge of the Law, naturally or prophetically revealed, should teach us that we dishonor God with our sins. Paul’s choice of sins, lifted from the Ten Commandments, show that the self-righteous break even the most rudimentary, easy to remember parts of the Law. Paul might as well ask, “Do you covet? Do you commit adultery in your heart?” You boast in the Law and claim to teach others, but first teach yourself! Can’t you see you fall short of the glory of God?
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:8-11).
The point is exactly the same. Those who boast in the Law, but fall short of one obvious part of the Law (again, one of the Ten Commandments), are under God’s condemnation. Breaking just one Law is equivalent to breaking all of them.
One may think, “So, I don’t steal, commit adultery, or rob temples!” If you know the Law so well, why don’t you teach yourself? Don’t you know that “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:21) and “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24)? If you did, you would see that the small things you have stolen (if not your whole paycheck) are theft, you have committed adultery with your eyes, that you rob temples when you commit spiritual idolatry by not loving God with all your heart. Can’t you see you are condemned and can only be saved by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross?
25 For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh
Being guilty of one part of the Law, makes one guilty of breaking the whole of the Law. So, what good is obedience in circumcision if there is not perfect obedience with the whole of the Law? In the same way, isn’t it true that the uncircumcised man, if he places his faith in Christ and keeps the requirements of the Law as it was actually intended, is thereby circumcised in the heart? Indeed, for reasons we will get into later, the righteous that live by faith fulfill the whole Law even though they fall short on points, while the faithless do not fulfill the Law and are condemned for every Law they break when they are judged according to the deeds done in their body.
29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Birth does not make Jews. Circumcision does not make Jews. Birth does not make Christians. Baptism does not make Christians. The Holy Spirit makes Christians for, “[N]o one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Being that God has done this work in man, even if men applaud faithless men who are impressive, God approves of the seal of the Spirit He has set. What is sealed cannot be unsealed, and what God has done in a man making him righteous cannot be undone.