Romans 2:1-16- Judgement and the Law
Explanation- The Book of Romans is the closest thing in the Bible that we have to a systematic theology. Paul is opening this masterful work up by ensuring that the reader understands that all have practiced unrighteousness, and all are deserving of the vengeful wrath of almighty God. Is anyone of us rightly able to pass judgment on the other when we too, have been guilty of the same things for which we judge? Now I do not take this to mean that Christians are not to practice righteous judgment. Christ Himself said that we would know them by their fruits. The judgment spoken of here is a condescending sort of judgment which looks down upon others for not meeting one’s perceived standard of righteousness. There will be many on that final day who assumed themselves to be righteous by their own standards only to find sinners entering the kingdom of God ahead of them (Mt. 21:31). It is God’s goodness that leads any man to repentance. We are all undeserving of His favor and rightly fall under His just judgment. As the old saying goes, when we point the finger at another, we always have three pointing back at ourselves.
Paul then begins to speak of men’s works. This is one of those areas that I’m sure Peter had in mind when he said that men twist them to their own destruction (2 Pet. 3:16). Paul is not seeking to justify a man by his works but is making a distinction between the law of grace and the law of works. Those under the law of grace have been purchased by the Lamb. They believe in His name and have been cleansed by His work. It is now the delight of such an individual to seek after the glory, honor, and immortality that is only found in Jesus Christ. Those who live under the law of works-based righteousness seek to enter the pasture in their own way. They do not enter through the sheep gate (which is Christ) but seek some other means of salvation. It is these who will be most severely judged by the law when God rewards every man according to their works. To those who labored under the law of grace, there will be Christ’s eternal reward, purchased and secured by the blood of the Lamb. But those who sought freedom under the law of works will find great bondage in judgment when God’s wrath is poured out on their unrighteous deeds. Again Paul makes reference to the Jew being first and then the Greek. As we will see in our progression, Paul saw no distinction between Jew and Greek in terms of God’s favor but was merely pointing out the succession in which the truth has been revealed. The good news was always presented first to the Jew because it was to the Jew that God had first revealed Himself in the Old Testament.
Our final section is a difficult one, and I cannot claim to have a perfect explanation for what Paul has written. In light of this, I will let my words be few. The law is the standard by which God judges mankind. He has set a standard of perfection, and all have fallen short of His expectations. Yet the law in itself is unable to save a man, for its place is to reveal the sin that dwells in man’s heart. Having been exposed to the law or not gives no man a higher footing than the next, as Paul says, those with and those without the law will be both be judged. It has never been about keeping every letter of the law, for that would be impossible! Paul says elsewhere that whatever done outside of faith is sin (Rom.14:23). How can a man who has never received the gift of faith obey the law perfectly when everything he does is sin? Or as one Pastor said, if a man living illegally in a foreign country does many good works (i.e. feeds the poor, attends to the sick, is charitable, and contributes to the community, etc…), yet is not granted citizenship or permission to be there, then everything that man does, no matter how good it may seem, is illegal. His very existence in that place would be a violation of the law. Similarly, every man who dwells on God’s green earth who lives outside the parameters of faith is indeed a lawbreaker. The reality is that whether a man has been exposed to the law or not, God’s law is written on our hearts. There may come a time where conscience becomes void and no longer functions as it should due to repeated violations and searing, but at one time in every man’s life, the conscience was active and vocal. We have a unique sense of what is right and wrong without any special instruction. There may be a desire for unlawful things, but it is not without knowledge.
Application- If we are honest with ourselves, each one of us has stumbled in the area of passing unrighteous judgment. This often comes when comparing what we believe to be our ‘little’ sins to others ‘big’ sins. Make no mistake; Paul condemns this kind of judgment. When we look upon the lost world, it should be a humbling affair. We, too, were once lost and without hope. We were enemies of God and under His righteous judgment. How can we so easily forget the grace that was shown to us by God in our time of rebellion? Was it by keeping the law that we found His favor? Or because we cleaned up our language or started going to church? Absolutely not! If we are going to seek to win men to Christ, then it must be on the foundation of grace. A list of ‘do’s’ and ‘do nots’ is not going to change anyone at a heart level. Surely the law plays a part in convincing man of his stance before a holy God, but it cannot work in him any lasting change. We must come to experience the grace and kindness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is then through the sanctifying work of the Spirit that we begin to desire compliance and submission to God’s law. We must seek men to be won for Christ rather than giving them a set of rules to follow. Make no mistake; if rule-keeping was all that was needed to obtain salvation, then Christ died in vain!