Romans 2

On Wednesday, January 27, we will discuss chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Romans, in the New Testament of the Bible.

After introducing the problem of universal sin, and introducing the Gospel of Jesus, the Savior of the world (see introduction to Romans 1), the apostle Paul now warns his readers of three possible misinterpretations of these introductory concepts. The warnings are particularly leveled against those with Jewish backgrounds; however, the truth of the warnings are universally applicable. (See verse 12.)

First, Paul stands firmly against those who understand God’s judgment and assume that it doesn’t apply to them, so they judge others. Paul is not here speaking of judgment in the sense of wisely distinguishing between what is right and wrong, and choosing carefully. He is speaking of the sort of judgment that belongs to God—that of righteously determining those whose wickedness will result in his “wrath and fury,” and his pouring out “tribulation and distress” upon those who do evil.

Stained glass of Moses holding the tablets of the Law; click through image to source
Stained glass of Moses holding the tablets of the Law; click through image to source

Second, the apostle warns those who believe that they are righteous law-keepers, because they misunderstand God’s law. Paul nullifies misinterpretations of the law with these points:

  • “…it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified”*; and
  • “…no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”* Those who are outwardly circumcised1 but disobey God’s law in their hearts are hypocrites for condemning others. That is why this chapter says so much about hypocrisy. (See verses 1, 3, 21-22, and 27.)

Finally, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul opposes the heretical view of the Gospel that assumes the grace of God is a license to sin. In the 4th verse, Paul indicates that “…God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”* A deliberate refusal to repent of an ungodly lifestyle would exclude us from the mercy shown to those who have turned to Jesus Christ as their savior. For this reason, the apostle speaks of the wrath, fury, tribulation, and distress that will come to those who obey unrighteousness.

Paul is not contradicting his preaching that salvation is a gracious gift from God. He is teaching us that God’s gracious salvation package includes a new lifestyle of repentance. Without this genuine salvation, we would be judged by our works, which would result in condemnation.


Footnote

  1. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant (promise and agreement) that God made with Abraham in Genesis 17. A comprehensive discussion of the covenant is beyond the scope of this brief post. However, it is worth mentioning that circumcision marked the Jews as God’s covenant children, meaning that the promise was theirs for the taking. The apostle Paul intends to show that this sign, in itself, does not ensure one’s right standing with God any more than a presumptive outward adherence to the law would.