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The Bible Teacher's Commentary
Paul continues to expound in Romans 2:5-11 how everyone will be carefully and rightlfully judged in the upcoming Judgment Day.
Romans 2:1-11 is divided into two sections:
The important principle begun to be explained in verse 5 is the principle of “works.” Everyone will be impartially rewarded for what he has stored up. They will reap what they have sowed. Underlying the next few verses is the basic concept that what we have done has been recorded and will either be rewarded if good or judged if evil.
“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” (Romans 2:5).
In verse 5 Paul particularly focuses on those people in the former discussion who practice the very same things they accused others of. Their behavior reveals a heart of stubbornness and impenitence. Instead of repenting, they cover up their sin with excuses. They thought they would be treated differently than the Gentiles which they despised. But we find that all men are equally accountable for one’s moral behavior, and indeed much of our behavior is unacceptable before God.
Paul clearly states that God will judge the unrepentant on “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” That day closes the opportunity to either repent or do further good works. They all will get their portion on that day. God will be fair. Paul’s argument will be found to be that no one except Christ Jesus has lived out that righteous life.
“Who WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:” (Romans 2:6).
The general principle of works is given in verse 6. Every man will get according to his deeds. It is like every thing we do. Everything has a consequence not only here on earth but also in the future. We are not merely accountability before man but also before God.
Self-righteousness is man living without God’s perspective. Many people live that way. They are not conscious of the heavenly courts. Law, however, without accountability is a laugh. God’s holy character is a compelling reason for mankind to be responsible to God for what he has been given. We are fools to believe what happens on earth is the final point of justice or reward.1
At this point, we should notice that Paul presumes that man has received certain things for which he is responsible to properly handle. Earlier on in chapter one, he has mentioned the gift of the knowledge of God, but he also has mentioned the ‘ordinance of God’ in 1:32. God’s moral law has been given to us, and therefore we are accountable for our behavior.
“ 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 2:7-8).
He mentions the two categories with which mankind fall into: those who do good (2:7) and those who disobey (2:8). Each has its activity and its reward.
This path is one of perseverance in doing good. To say that one is well because of some past good acts is hardly sufficient to say one is on the road to eternal life. One’s life needs to be dictated by his commitment to doing good. These are the very ones who show they are seeking glory, honor and immortality.
“Glory and honor” (δοξα και τιμη) is a familiar phrase to Jewish ears as a description of what God desires for man (Job 40:10; Ps 8:5), or what man should ascribe to God (Ps 29:1; 96:7), but in Greek ears this conjunction would speak of the honor and high repute which properly accrues to the name of a good man.” They will gain eternal life. Their deeds are self-evident of their future.
Paul basically is providing no excuse for those who say because they ‘try to be good’ or have such and such experience that they can gain eternal life. Even Nicodemus had to be born again. It is our dedication to doing good which affirms that we are have eternal life. The life is bearing fruit in our lives through good deeds.
This second group have shown their consistency by living a life of disobedience rather than obedience. There is an emphasis on how they are going contrary to the way God has made them. They are known for their self-oriented plans rather than God’s ways which is well summarized by the word ‘truth’. Man’s ways are typified in the word ‘unrighteousness’.
The reward for those who have disobeyed the Lord will surely find wrath and indignation. God is being patient now but that time will end. Judgment will come. Then one will be at the end of God’s fierce wrath which is born from His sense of justice. Self-righteous man falls into this category. They will be judged by God’s standard of truth rather than man’s own judgment.
Some ask if Paul is stating that it is by good works one gets to heaven. Yes it is, but be careful to pay attention to the following details.
We first must recognize that only Jesus is the righteous one. He walks this path of good works alone. Man always fails. No one can completely carry out God’s ways. We err before we are two years old. Paul will speak more of this later in the book when he speaks of the character of our old nature. In drawing this conclusion, it declares that all men have discredited themselves from this path of good works. Moralists and religionists profess an attempt to do good works but this is clearly not what they have. They smear their lives with a coating of self-righteousness.
The only way to gain these good works is through belief in Christ. Paul is providing us the right perspectives of life so that we have what we need to gain eternal life. He is at this point especially destroying the confidence of the self-righteous person. Everyone else would easily confess to their lack of a righteous life. Before one can or will claim Christ’s righteousness, though, he must first admit (confess) to his lack of a righteous life and the need to have that righteous life.
In summary, Paul is stating that our eternal state is judged not by what we believe about ourselves but by how we live before God. Paul will amplify this thought in the verses to come. It is important for us to realize that Paul is not addressing the issue as to how to get to heaven (he does this later) but who is going to heaven (no one because they fall short as he will teach in the last part of chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3). This argument is similar to I John where there exists tests to determine one’s salvation.
Paul is attacking the false security of the men and women who are supposedly saved by their righteous deeds. Paul confronts them right where they feel the strongest, but it is their deception that makes them so blind. Again, one cannot presume to be saved on the basis of who a person is, such as being a Jew, an elder, a faithful church goer, but one’s genuine sense of security is derived from a godly life. Paul has everyone to look at their own behavior rather than on their background, for otherwise, man will be able to hide his sin. Paul further aids us to do this through the following verses.
“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 every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. “For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:9-11).
In Romans 2:9 Paul addresses the basic problem. Sin is not a problem of race or religious background but one of deeds. Those who do evil will be punished with tribulation and distress. Neither Jew or Greek will be excluded from the general examination of their behavior. The Jew prides himself on the covenant; the Greek prides himself on his wisdom and education. Both will be judged according to their deeds.
“The Jew first” can have two meanings. It might refer to their being first in time. They heard the gospel first such as in Acts 1:8. The “first” might also refer to the greatest degree of responsibility. They knew more clearly about God. Perhaps both are true, but clearly God will hold the Jews at least as responsible as the Gentiles if not more.
Paul does not stop with the punishment being properly distributed. Good behavior is also equitably rewarded. Those who do good are rewarded with glory, honor and peace. Notice again how Paul uses the two extremes of good and bad, righteous and unrighteous just as John did. There is no middle ground. Put clearly and succinctly, there is no partiality with God. God will examine everyone on his own moral life and thus stand or fall. Our works have illuminated which road we are walking on.
Again, the ‘first’ can apply to time or to the opportunity to obtain these goals.
These verses provide a good check on whether we are guilty of hypocrisy, that is, do we believe our spiritual state is better than it really is. Paul provides a simple test.
Before God’s scrutinizing light, we will find that all men have sinned (read further into Romans 3). None of us have sought God’s way. The way is there, but man did not seek it.
What if there was such a righteous man? Then he would be considered one who earned or at least gained eternal life. Paul wants us to think this way. This is true. He is pushing everyone to evaluate their lives according to their moral behavior. In the end, mankind will be shown to have failed miserably, but Jesus Christ, the second Adam, has secured eternal life through his righteous life.
This assumption that everyone is contaminated by their own evil deeds is a basic theologic proposition that greatly affects our evangelical message. For example, we do not need to worry that people will be able to live righteous lives. Paul will explore this concept more in the next verses. So what are we to do with those people who say they try to be good?
We can affirm their statement that the righteous one will gain eternal life. The issue is that they really have not reached that point. Even if one is righteous from this point onward, they still have a past which reveals their lot placed with those that will be utterly judged.