Who Needs the Gospel? They Do Too!
Explore the Bible Series
September 18, 2005
Lesson Passage: Romans 2:1-29
Introduction: In Romans 1:18-32 the Apostle Paul began a lengthy denunciation of the ungodliness of the human race. He did not focus on any single group; rather, the apostle brought a general indictment against the entire human race. Chapter Two continued Paul’s charge against humanity, but his argument narrows in scope.
Paul understood clearly the attitude of his own people, the Jews. They would have heartily agreed with Paul’s charges as they related to the Gentiles; however, the apostle intended to include all men in his denunciation of unrighteousness. Even the Jews would not escape the judicious eye of God, and Paul believed his countrymen were in the same moral predicament as the Gentiles. The apostle’s argument is reminiscent of the preaching strategy of the Prophet Amos (See Amos 2-3). The ancient prophet scolded the pagan nations for their ungodliness and may have, in the process, won the initial approbation of the people of Israel and Judah. Read the entirety of Amos’s condemnation, however, and one discovers his sermonic plan. Like a spider weaving its web, Amos ensnared his Jewish audience in its own moral conceit. Having perhaps won their approval in his diatribe against the pagan nations, Amos turned his attention to the considerable sin of the Old Testament people of God. Paul followed a similar homiletic schema.
At first, Paul eased into his argument with some diplomacy; then, in verse seventeen, he unveiled his intent. The Jews, as much as the Gentiles, were guilty before God and in desperate need of the saving mercies of Christ. Paul’s transition, in these verses, seems so subtle and seamless that some commentators have questioned whether Romans 2:1-16 refers to the Jews at all. Many commentators, however, see these verses as a foreshadowing of the indictment against the Jews. Curtis Vaughan and Bruce Corley lean toward this view, as do John Murray and C.E.B. Cranfield.
It is the opinion of this writer that Chapter Two falls into two distinct sections, and both sections relate to Paul’s concern for the Jews. Verses one through sixteen provide a subtle, effective transition from Paul’s indictments against the Gentiles. The next section, verses seventeen through twenty-nine, pointedly deals with the sins of the Jewish people; in fact, Paul continued this theme well into Chapter Three. What is Paul’s purpose in this portion of Scripture? Had Paul become anti-Semitic? Of course not! Paul’s purpose was to express mankind’s universal need for justification, Jew and Gentile alike. No one escaped the apostle’s acerbic pen and dismal diagnosis. The whole race, lost and defiled by sin, needs the free pardon of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in order to be justified in the eyes of a holy God.
This is a difficult section to consider. It lays men low before God. Nothing commends man to the Lord, and the race brings no merit to the Judge’s bar. All are guilty, depraved, defiled, corrupt, and enslaved; moreover, all men find themselves helpless to rescue their cause. Another, with better credentials, must come to man’s aid.
“Doest ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he.”
As we shall see, Paul’s intent centered on the unique fitness of Emmanuel to rise to the cause of sinners. Christ alone stands as the singular hope of the race, and sinners may find hope in the perfect righteous, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of God’s Son.
I. The Presumptuous Sin of Those Who Judged the Gentiles (2:1-16)
A. A general statement of principle (v. 1): Perhaps Paul anticipated Jewish hearts would rise quickly to his charges against the Gentiles, so quickly, in fact, that they might miss his overall purpose. He did not intend to inflate the Jewish spiritual ego; rather, he wanted all men to understand their desperate sinfulness. The impulse to judge the sins of others, Paul observed, betrayed one’s own depravity and moral blindness. To judge another is to condemn oneself.
B. The impartiality of God’s judgment (vv. 2-11): Vaughan and Corley highlight three phrases that bring out God’s impartiality.
1. “ the judgment of God is according to truth” (v. 2): This phrase indicates that God sees things as they really are. Men may conceal their sins with rags of their own “righteousness”, but God observes the unvarnished truth about all of us. He knows the secret motives and inclinations that defile even the best of our deeds. Paul identified a serious character flaw, a hypocritical spirit of judgment, and he pointed out the seriousness of condemning others for sins that the judgmental person had, himself, committed (See v. 3). God’s patience with sinners, Paul asserted, should promote repentance (See v. 4)
2. “who will render to each one according to his deeds” (v. 6): This verse does not teach salvation by works. Paul’s target audience, the Jews, took great pride in their pedigree and religious privilege, but Paul pointed out that God judges all men according to their deeds. Those who practice disobedience will bring upon themselves the wrath of God (See vv. 8-9). Others, who render compliance to God’s will, issuing from a heart of faith and love to God, will receive glory, honor, and peace (See v. 10).
3. “there is no respect of persons with God” (v. 11): The judgment bar will admit no favorites. No earthy privilege or human attainment will exempt a man from making an account before God.
C. The judgment of God according to the law (vv. 12-16): Paul, of course, acknowledged that all men did not possess the written Law of Moses; nevertheless, all men remain accountable to God because the Lord has written his law upon the hearts of all men. One should not imagine that these two standards (the law written by Moses and the law of God written on the heart) are essentially different. God judges men according to the light they possess, but sin condemns everyone because all possess sufficient understanding of the law of God, whether written on stone or upon the heart, to render them accountable and unexcused before God.
II. The Jews Inexcusable Before God (2:17-29)
A. The boastfulness of the Jews
1. “you are called a Jew” (v. 17): They took great pride in their ethnic identity, and this arrogance promoted a spirit of religious superiority to the rest of the world.
2. “rest on the law” (v. 17): Sadly, Paul’s countrymen believed that God’s law affirmed their righteousness rather than their sinfulness. Their apprehension of the law promoted pride rather than humility.
3. “and know his will… instructed out of the law” (v. 18): The Jewish problem, in a sense, did not grow from ignorance. They enjoyed the privilege of possessing the oracles of God; yet, they misused and misapprehended the content of God’s truth.
4. “you are confident that you are a guide to the blind” (vv. 19-20): The perceived superiority of the Jews persuaded them that they served as the moral guides of the world.
5. “you make your boast in the law…” (vv. 23-26): In particular, Paul focused on the issue of circumcision. They Jews made much of this. They believed that, as guardians of the outward rite of circumcision, they help a favored status with God.
B. Paul’s answers to Israel’s boastfulness: The apostle challenged the Jews by means a series of pointed questions.
1. “You who teach another, do you teach yourself?” (v. 21a): There is, perhaps, nothing so incongruous as an untaught teacher.
2. “You who teach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” (v. 21b-22): The Jewish teachers often failed to apply the principles of Scripture to themselves. They vigorously examined others for moral flaws, but they detected no deficiency in themselves.
3. “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (v. 23): Paul seems to have used this question as means of introducing the issue of circumcision. This discussion continues to the end of the chapter. The Jews took great pride and consolation in the physical rite of circumcision, but the apostle asserted that the circumcision God sought was that of the heart (See vv. 28-29).
Points of Discussion:
1. What lessons do we find in this passage to promote genuine humility? What are the marks of an arrogant, judgment spirit? Theologically, how should Christians address the risings of pride in the heart?
2. Discuss verse four in detail. How do people sin against privilege? What spiritual privileges do you enjoy? How can you improve those privileges to promote your growth in grace?
3. What implication does this passage, especially verses twelve through 16, have for our theology of missions?