Romans 2:1-16


Do you remember the story of David and Bathsheba?  David had coveted another man’s wife and, because he was the king, he sent for her and took her.  Then came the bad news - she was pregnant.  He clumsily tried to have the affair covered up and when this did not work, he arranged the husband to have an “accident.”


David thought that the entire matter was carefully hushed until one day the prophet Nathan showed up before his throne with a story.  There was in his kingdom a poor man with a single lamb which was considered to be a part of his family.  There was also a rich man who owned great flocks and herds.  In order to entertain some visiting nobility, the rich man had taken the poor man’s lamb and had killed it.


As David hears the story, he is filled with a righteous indignation.  He declares that justice will be found only in the death penalty.  Suddenly, Nathan points a bony finger at David and proclaims, “YOU art the man!”


Paul does the same thing here in Romans.


Throughout the first chapter, he has been showing how the pagan world stands condemned by the wrath of a righteous God.  Men are condemned, not because they did not know God, but because they knew God and because they then determined to reject God.




Men rejected God and chose instead to worship idols

God rejected men, giving them over to their sin


Up to this time, the Jews within the congregation have been nodding their heads in overt agreement and Paul beats up on the Gentiles.


He said that God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts and the Jews all said, “Amen!”

He said that God gave them over to degrading passions and the Jews all said, “Amen!”

He said that God gave them over to a depraved mind and the Jews all said, “Amen!”

Now he says, “YOU are without excuse.”  And there is an uncomfortable silence in response.  “What do you mean when you say that WE are without excuse?”  Paul says, “You are without excuse because you have passed judgment upon the very sins which you yourself are committing.”


There is an application here for those who are not Jewish.  It is directed toward the man who sees himself as being moral and upstanding.  It is the man who looks at himself as being better than the pagan.





            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.

            And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (Romans 2:1-2).


By starting with the word “therefore,” Paul takes us back to the previous chapter where he has just delivered a blistering condemnation against the pagan world of his day.


It is obvious that such people were underneath the wrath of God and that such people need the righteousness of God.


But what about the moral person?  The person who is not so bad as the pagan?  The person who is in church every Sunday and who does not bow down to heathen idols and who has not descended into homosexuality or other depravities?


This person is also condemned.  He is condemned because he is also a sinner.  As he points to the wrongs of the pagan and says, “I’m not that bad,” he condemns himself.  How does he condemn himself?  The answer is back in Romans 1:32 - “although they KNOW the ordinance of God...”  The fact that this person passes judgment is an indication that he knows the ordinance of God and the standard that he ought to be keeping.  He knows this standard, and yet he fails to live up to this standard.


Here is the principle.  God judges judgers.  This is why we are warned against judging others.  It is because judgers get judged and they get judged first.


Perhaps you remember the Jimmy Swaggart scandal.  The significant thing was not that he sinned and fell, but that he had made it his business to judge and to condemn other Christians.


Who are the judges of whom Paul spoke?  They are RELIGIOUS people.  And they are judged on the basis of their religion.  The judgers are judged.


God will not have to search through His law looking for a basis to condemn you.  He will be able to use the judgments that you will have passed on others.


You see, when you judge others, you are reflecting a standard of morality.  And you will be found to be guilty of breaking your own standards.  The truth is that we do not even live up to our own standards.  Thus, the more you judge others, the more you pass judgment upon yourself.  Listen to the words of a well-known American politician:


            “This administration has proved that it is utterly incapable of cleaning out the corruption which has completely eroded it and re-establishing the confidence and faith of the people in the morality and honesty of their government employees.  The investigations which have been conducted to date have only scratched the surface.  For every case which is exposed, there are ten which are successfully covered up, and even then, this administration will go down in history as the “Scandal-a-day Administration.”  It is typical of the moral standards of the administration that when they are caught red-handed with payoff money in their bank accounts, the best defense they can give is that they won the money in a poker game or in a crap game or that they hit the daily double.  A new class of royalty has been created in the United States and its princes of privileges and payoffs include the racketeers who get concessions on their income tax, the insiders who get favored treatment on government contracts, the influence peddlers with their key to the White House and the government employee who uses his position to feather his nest.  The great tragedy, however, is not that corruption exists, but that it is defended and condoned by the president and other high administration officials.  We have had corruption defended by those in high places.  If they won’t admit or recognize that corruption exists, how can we expect them to clean it up?”


These words were penned by Senator Richard Nixon in his attack on the Truman Administration in the early 1950's.  The standard which he set in condemning another man came back to condemn him in the Watergate Proceedings.


This is what happens here in Romans 2.  The very words with which the moral man uses to condemn his pagan neighbor are used to condemn him.


Back in chapter 1, we saw that the pagan is “without excuse” (1:20).  Now we see that the religious moralist is also “without excuse.”  The standard which the moralist uses to condemn the ungodly has not been met by himself.  He is like the man who condemns juvenile delinquents for their crimes and then who gets into his car and drives above the speed limit.  He is breaking the law in the same way those whom he has condemned broke the law.  He condemns the pagan for his idolatry and then proceeds to make an idol of himself, putting his own interests before those of the Lord.


Verse 2 brings this condemnation to the forefront when it says that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.  The word translated “rightly” is  kata aletheian“according to truth.”   This passage literally reads, the judgment of God is according to truth as it comes on the one practicing such things.”


Man’s judgment is not according to truth.  This is why men will look at sin and conclude, “I’m okay, you’re okay.”  Man’s judgment changes from day to day.  Only God is the true judge.





            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?

            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? (Romans 2:3-4).


The phrase “think lightly” is literally, “think down on.”  It describes one who looks with disdain upon the kindness of God.

The moralist believes that he will escape the judgment of God because he has been relatively good when compared to a master criminal or to a murderer.  In doing so, he ignores both the depravity of his own sin as well as the riches of God’s kindness and patience.


Paul describes God as being rich in three areas:

w Kindness

w Tolerance

w Patience


Our problem isn’t that God is not kind or tolerant or patient.  Our problem is that we think that we deserve kindness and tolerance and patience.  The result is PRIDE.  It ought to be REPENTANCE.


Why hasn’t God already judged the world in all of its wickedness and evil and rebellion and sin?  It is because of His kindness and His tolerance and His patience.  It is because God is rich in these qualities.  And God is being kind and tolerant and patient so that YOU will have ample opportunity to repent.  He says the same thing in 2 Peter 3:10.


            The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is PATIENT toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:10).


In verse 15, Peter goes on to urge Christians to “regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you.”  It is possible that Peter was writing concerning this same passage which we are studying.


This is also a judgment against modern prosperity theology.  Prosperity theology says, “I am enjoying prosperity, so therefore God must be affirming my current lifestyle.”  In reality, your prosperity is merely a manifestation of the goodness and the tolerance and the patience of God.  And it should be driving you to repent.





            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: 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. (Romans 2:5-8).


There is a future day of judgment coming.  It is described in two ways:


(1)        It is a day of wrath.

We saw in chapter 1 that the wrath of God is currently being revealed against unrighteousness and ungodliness.  But there is also a future manifestation of that wrath.  It will be revealed in the revealing of the righteous judgment of God.


(2)        The revealing of the righteous judgment of God.

God’s righteous judgment was revealed at the cross.  When Jesus died on the cross, the righteous wrath of an infinite and holy God was poured out upon Him.  He suffered God’s wrath in our place.  But there is coming a future day when that wrath shall be poured out again.  It shall be poured out upon those who, instead of hearing and believing the gospel, stubbornly turned their hearts to unrepentance to reject God’s Son.


The teaching of the Scriptures is that there is a future day of judgment when God shall judge the works of men.  It is a judgment of DEEDS.  This judgment will result in distinguishing two types of people.


Doers of Good Deeds

Doers of Evil Deeds

Character:  By perseverance in doing good seeks for glory and honor and immortality

Character:  Selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness

Reward:   Eternal Life

Reward:   Wrath and indignation


There is an obvious problem here.  We have always been taught that salvation is not obtained on the basis of any works which are done, but only upon the basis of the grace of God.  How then does Paul say that we are saved by our deeds?


1.         The Scriptures consistently teach of a final judgment which is based upon men’s works.


            For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14).


            “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:27).


            “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28-29).


            Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5).


            For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10).


Whenever the Scriptures talk about how a man is saved, it is always said to be through faith in Jesus Christ.  However, whenever the Scriptures talk about judgment, it is always based upon the works which a man has done.


2.         Saving faith is always accompanied by obedience.


In Romans 1:5 Paul spoke of “the obedience of faith.”  Unbelief and disobedience are interchangeable concepts.  This is seen in John 3:36 where we read that “he who BELIEVES in the Son has eternal life; but he who DOES NOT OBEY the Son shall not see life.”


3.         The quality of deeds mentioned in each of these passages implies saving faith.


The man who perseveres in doing that which is truly good is one who believes the promises of God concerning salvation.  He seeks glory and honor and immortality, not of the kind that is supplied by the world, but of the kind that is given by God.


By contrast, the man who is selfishly ambitious, seeking only what he wants rather than what God desires, is disobedient to the truth.  He denies the grace of God and disobeys the calling of God that leads to repentance.  The reward for his actions is wrath and indignation.


4.         This is a general description of those who are saved and those who are lost.


What Paul is teaching is that a man’s faith will be evidenced in his life.  Saving faith will always be accompanied by works.  The good deeds which are manifest in your life are the evidence of your true faith in Jesus Christ.





            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. (Romans 2:9-10).


Notice the priority of the Jew.  Throughout history, God has given grace first to His chosen people, Israel.  But that is not the only thing that God has given.  God has also given judgment first to Israel.


Doers of Evil Deeds

Doers of Good Deeds

Reward:  Tribulation and distress

Reward:  Glory and honor and peace

Character:  Every soul of man who does evil

Character:  Every man who does good

To the Jew first and also of  the Greek


Here is the principle.  God always deals first with His people.  When God blesses, He gives that blessing first to those who are His people.  And when God judges, that judgment falls first to His people.  This is true, not only of Israel, but also of the church.


            For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).


What was true of Israel is also true of the church.  We also have a relational priority.  And when God begins to judge, He will judge us first.


There is a chiastic parallel here which takes us all the way back to verse 6.


Good:  By perseverance in doing good seeks for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life


Good: Glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek







Bad:  Selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation


Bad: There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first and also of  the Greek



The fact of a relational priority does not mean that God is showing partiality.  This is seen in the next verse.





            For there is no partiality with God.

            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 not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. (Romans 2:11-13).


The word translated “partiality” is a compound word made up of the joining of two Greek words:


·    Prosopon is the word for “face.”

·    Lambano is the verb “to take.”


It means to “take at face value,” to judge according to outward appearance.  We have a saying: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  But we ALWAYS judge books by their covers.  And we tend to judge people in the same way.


In our culture, we are taught to seek the favor of men who are wealthy or powerful or intelligent.  We judge men by their outward condition and status.  But God does not do this.  He is impartial.  He is not partial to Americans or whites or rich or Presbyterians.  He does not consider the outward associations of man.


What He does consider are the circumstances under which men have sinned and He judges them accordingly.


The Pagan

The Religious Man

All who have sinned without the Law

 All who have sinned under the Law

Will also perish without the Law

Will be judged by the Law


The man who has never read or been told of the written Law of God will die apart from that Law.   We shall see in just a moment that they will be judged according to that part of the law which is written in their hearts.  The man who does know of the Law of God will be judged by that Law - a judgment not on how much he has heard, but on how much he has DONE.


It is the doers of the Law who will be justified.  You can be justified and receive eternal life on the basis of your works.  There is only one problem.  No one has ever done this.  We will see in chapter 3 that there is none who has truly sought after God.  And to make matters worse, no one has ever even come close.  No one has ever been justified in this way.


But that is not all.  Paul goes on to say that the Jew will also be judged.  This came as a startling revelation to the Jews.  They believed that God was going to judge the pagans for their immorality.  But they thought themselves as being above such judgment.  They thought that they would be accorded a special privilege from God because they were the keepers and the guardians and the hearers of the Law.  Now they are told that they are going to be judged by that very same Law.  Indeed, having the Law not only means that he will be judged, but it means that he will incur a stricter judgment, for he is that much more responsible.


There is an application to us today.  We could say that the man who has been given the Gospel will be judged by that Gospel and will be held accountable for an even greater measure of God’s truth.


There is a warning here.  It is not the hearers of the Gospel who shall be justified, but the doers of the Gospel who shall be saved.  It is not enough to be a member of a church.  Or a Presbyterian.  Have you obeyed the Gospel?





            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... (Romans 2:14-15).


This passage answers the question: “What about the man who has never heard the Law of God?  How will God judge such a man?

My friend, Sam Lamerson was speaking with a man one day who claimed to be an atheist.
Sam replied, “No, you aren't an atheist.”
“Yes, I am.”
Whereupon Sam asked, “Do you ever pray when no one else is looking?”


Paul has already said that unbelievers "know the ordinance of God" (1:32).  Now we read that they “do instinctively the things of the Law.”  The Greek word translated “instinctively” is      .  It is from the same root found in Romans 1:26-27 where we saw men and women changing the NATURAL use of their bodies to that which is UNNATURAL.


You can go anywhere in the world and you can find people who believe that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  God has written this in their hearts.  A man’s own conscience bears witness of the fact that he has the Law of God written in his heart.


But that is not all.  The truth is that, while men have the idea of right and wrong, no one even goes so far as to live up to his own ideas.  All men have experienced a guilty conscience.  And their own conscience has judged them as guilty before God.  This will one day be affirmed.





            ...on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:16).


There is coming a day when the heart of each man will be exposed.  God will judge the secrets of men.  That is what happened to David.  He thought that he had covered up his sin with Bathsheba and that no one knew of it.  But then the man of God came and revealed that which had been hidden.


There is no avoiding of the judgment of God.  But you can be pre-judged by taking your sin to the cross.  Confess it.  And repent of it.  And find that it has been removed.


This is why Paul has told us about the coming judgment.  He tells us the bad news so that we might embrace the good news of the Gospel.


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