Series on Romans, II The Gospel and Man’s Need, C The Peril, Text: 2:1-16, Title: The Prosecution of Sinners


In Romans 1:18-2:16 we have what might be pictured as a courtroom scene. God is the prosecutor, represented by Paul a member of the team. The defense for the largest group, the Gentiles, speaks first. His clients, the whole human race excepting the Jews can hardly be blamed. His clients are not guilty by reason of ignorance. They have no Holy Scripture and no special revelation. The plea is to exonerate them that they be not blamed for their disobedient and lawless lives. Ignorance of the law in the mind of the defense attorney is an excuse. The Prosecutor then speaks. These people,he says, have always had an adequate revelation of God both from without and within. They have rejected the light that was given to them because they did not want God to be over them, and God had given them up to their own sinful devices. We then hear in the second chapter the plea of the defense attorney for his Jewish clients. They are the chosen people, and so their plea is not that they are ignorant but that they are innocent because of their position and standing. They are specially favored, To the Jew belong the Scriptures by which the whole world is to be judged. They should be excused because they obviously deserve special treatment. The Prosecutor returns and points out that God is not a respecter of persons. Sin is sin. Those who sin without the law are judged differently than those who sin with it, but all are on trial and all are judged guilty. We, as Christians, ought to realize that this indictment of the Jew is a message to all those who hold a formal outward religion. A moral code of ethics and an attachment to the church will not save us in the day of judgment anymore than it would save them. By these words we are all shut up to one hope, Jesus Christ who came to save Jew and Gentile. Paul has said that the gospel is to the Jew first and also to the Gentile, but as he also says in verse 9, There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. So let us look closely at the judgment of God and realize that it is different, definite and dispassionate.

I Different Judgment

The difference is shown in verses 1-5, You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. It was the Jews who were passing judgment on every one else. They condemned the rest of the world and favored themselves as the elect of God, the chosen people.They were chosen all right, but not choice. God’s judgment is different because it is one hundred percent impartial. The greater the privilege the greater the judgment. This is true not only of the Jew, but also of us. As Jesus said in Luke 12:47 and 48, That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. This is directed particularly at His own people the Jews because they had been entrusted with much and he is in this context warning them to, as it were, read the handwriting on the wall because the judgment is at hand. The favored are more accountable than those who are not and yet they think that privilege brings immunity. Have you ever seen one of these dramas in which the criminal is the representative of a foreign government and has diplomatic immunity? Doesn’t that make you mad when evil men are immune to prosecution? Rest assured that does not happen with God’s judgment.

II Definite Judgment

Now in verses 6-10 we see the certainty of God’s judgment, God will give to each person according to what he has done.To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Notice that no one escapes. As we see in Revelation 20:11 and 12, Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. Our text says each person. Nobody is too big, too important, too special for the great are there. Nobody is too unimportant or insignificant for the small are there. We must be on our guard lest we interpret these passages as teaching salvation through our works or good deeds. Neither Paul in Romans or John  in Revelation is saying that. Though we are judged according to what we have done, “what we have done,” includes our heart attitude and not just outward observable conduct. If I have repented and turned to the Lord and if I have believed in him with my heart and confessed him with my mouth that is something I have done. Paul speaks of those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, and the language is not describing a merely moral person but a believer, a Christian. One who seeks glory seeks the Lord. One who seeks honor seeks God’s approval and one who seeks immortality is obviously seeking, not fame, but a life beyond the grave with God. Such a person will be found in the book of life of which John writes. But in the end all are judged.

III Dispassionate Judgment

Now the Apostle reminds us that God’s judgment is equitable and fair in verses 11-16,  For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. There is a huge difference between possessing the law and observing it. Obviously, in so far as the Jewish nation is concerned, they possessed the Word of God, but their whole history was one of disobedience. The Gentiles are no better for although they did not have the revelations that the Jews had, they still had a law written in their consciences. Paul is saying here that both will be judged with absolute fairness. What is paramount here is to recognize that men are made in God’s image. They are endowed with a moral nature. When a cat kills a mouse, or a tiger kills a gazelle it is not a crime or a sin because they have no moral responsibility. We do. Anthropologists can tell us that all human societies develop codes of conduct. Those codes may be good or bad depending on  our analysis, but that they are present no one can deny. This is a phenomenon which is peculiar to man because he is made in a different way. There is always some standard erected in human societies which the scofflaw disregards and the conscientious man follows. But Paul is not speaking here about the method of justification available for sinners, as revealed in the Gospel, but about the principles of justice which will be applied to all who look to the law for justification. If men rely on deeds, they must perform deeds. It remains true that whether Jew or Gentile, no mere man has ever kept the law, thus the only way to justification is through Christ alone. We were created to be morally responsible and therefore we will all be judged. The Apostle ends with the warning that God will judge men’s secrets. That is men look on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. This is aimed at all men, Jew and Gentile to inform them that outward observance of whatever law that they have will not save in the final judgment. Only the atoning work of Jesus Christ can do that and God will see whether we believe or not.