"Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised" (Romans 2:25).
It’s all or nothing. We either trust in our good works or we trust in Jesus. However, if we trust in ourselves, failing one time ruins everything (James 2:10). This is the point. The Jews were relying on circumcision, a symbol of the righteousness Abraham had obtained by faith (Rom. 4:11), but instead of living by this faith, they were trusting in their ability to keep each commandment. In a disquieting declaration, Paul said, their habitual sin makes it as if they were uncircumcised.
If no one is justified by following the Law, why did Jesus instruct the man to obey the commandments?
This is quite a statement! What a shock for the Jews who went to great care to follow the letter of Law. They prided themselves in living up its standards. And yet, Paul observes that it is of no value to them because they are unable to live perfectly. In other words, they were trusting in the wrong thing! In fact, one of the main points in Paul’s letters is that no one will be justified by their ability to keep the Law (Rom. 3:20, 10:3-4; 11:6; Gal 2:16, 3:10-11, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5).
"Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Romans 2:17-24)
Having the Law brings superior knowledge, but it also brings accountability. What could be omitted by ignorance, cannot be omitted by awareness. The Jews prided themselves in observing on the Law, trusting that they were good enough by being careful to do everything it instructed.
the same laws the Jews are claiming to have kept, are the laws they had repeatedly broken.
However, here’s a shocking revelation by Paul—the same laws the Jews are claiming to have kept, are the laws they had repeatedly broken. The Book of James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
"This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares" (Romans 2:16)
This is quite a statement! In the past few verses, Paul has unequivocally proven that humans are excuseless before God—both Jews, who have the Law, and Gentiles, who have the essence of the Law written on their hearts. As everyone has an intuitive knowledge of God and His standards, we also have a knowledge of our condition apart from God.
As everyone has an intuitive knowledge of God and His standards, we also have a knowledge of our condition apart from God.
At the end of time, when those who do not believe in Jesus stand before God for final judgment, there will be no excuse available. God will judge using their secret, hidden thoughts. Even if they manage to disregard and suppress the knowledge of God in the present world, all secrets will eventually be revealed. Our conscience bears witness of the need for Jesus (Rom. 2:15), and so this will be proof enough to condemn.
Humanity Is without Excuse but Not Without Hope
“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” (Romans 2:14-15)
If the purpose of Law is to bring the realization that we need a savior because its standards were impossible to fulfill (Gal. 3:24), what happens when someone is not familiar with the Law, the Prophets, or even the Bible? How do they come to the same realization?
What happens when someone is not familiar with the Law, the Prophets, or even the Bible?
This is an important question, and one Paul must address as he is writing to a wide audience, most of whom are unfamiliar with the requirements of the Jewish Law. This passage is specifically speaking about Gentiles, people outside of the Jewish faith with no knowledge of the Law, the Prophets, or even of God. Paul observes that even though they may have no knowledge of the Law, its requirements are written on their hearts through their conscience.
“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” (Romans 2:12-13)
There is a subtle, toxic doctrine that permeates the Church today that says Jesus plus something else is required. Jesus plus works. Jesus plus obedience to the Law. Jesus plus…fill in the blank.
To be declared righteous before God one must obey the Law. But the misconception is that one’s obedience to the Law means following rules and commandments.
This is why so many people struggle with understanding the differences between the Old and New Covenants. The result is a hybrid of the two where we trust in Jesus to save us, but then start working at everything else.
"For God does not show favoritism" (Romans 2:11)
Have you ever struggled to be noticed or valued for your strengths and abilities? Growing up being the youngest of four, sometimes I struggled to be noticed. All the great accomplishments and milestones had already been achieved by each sibling who came before me.
It’s easy to look around at another’s talents and abilities and assume that person is better or more loved by God because, as humans, we assign value to ability.
The same is true within the kingdom of God. It’s easy to look around at another’s talents and abilities and assume that person is better or more loved by God because, as humans, we assign value to ability. However, God does not show favoritism in this way. This verse stresses the fact that God does not consider one person better than another, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done, or what talents they possess. God shows no partiality between people. In fact, what He offers to one, He willingly offers to all.
“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” (Romans 2:6-10)
A passage such as this can be quite confusing. At first glance, it appears that eternal life is dependent on what we do. If we persist in doing good, we can expect eternal life. However, if we continually reject the truth and do evil, we can expect God’s wrath. And while this is true, it is only part of the truth, and so we must look at this passage within the context of the Book of Romans to fully understand it.
What Paul is describing as the behavior rewarded by eternal life is faith as an action.
Throughout this letter, Paul is building the case for faith in Jesus. One of his main points is that the Law (or trying to do good) could never save us, as this was never its purpose (Rom. 3:20). Therefore, the only action that will be rewarded with eternal life is the action of faith not of works. Here’s why: At the pinnacle turning point of this letter in Chapter 3, Paul maintains that we are saved by grace (Rom. 3:23-24) and we are saved through faith (Rom. 3:22). No one will be declared righteous by only observing the Law (Rom. 3:19-20). And finally, the only way we are justified is through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:27-28).
“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” (Romans 2:5)
A while back, I was struggling with changes that were taking place within my department at work. These changes caused a lot of internal struggles. Finally it got to the point one day, my boss stopped by planning to offer me a raise, but because I was so consumed in self-pity, half way through our conversation I kicked him out of my office.
I was hurt and unwilling to accept the changes because I felt overlooked and underappreciated.
Needless to say, weeks later I got the raise, but only after a sincere apology and a change in attitude. The issue was my heart, which had been misguided and left unchecked during all of the changes. During this time, I saw only what I wanted to see and dwelt on it. My perception had gotten skewed, I was hurt and unwilling to accept the changes because I felt overlooked and underappreciated.
“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?” (Romans 2:3-4)
During the winter months, I looked down at my keychain and realized that I had lost the key to my Harley. I had it on a quick release loop so I could remove it from the rest of my keys for ease when riding. I looked everywhere for it—in all of my jackets, purses, and pockets—but because I couldn’t pinpoint the time-frame in which I lost it, I had no hope of finding it.
Here is a foundational truth: God is a God of kindness, tolerance, and patience, and His kindness is what brings us to repentance.
After I had given up the search, I dreaded telling my husband that the key was gone, as I expected him to be angry, even though it was an accident. When I finally worked up the courage to tell him, he dismissed it with a shrug, commenting, “These things happen.” I was so relieved. Not only was he not angry, he was sympathetic knowing this could have happened to anyone.
Do you know why I was nervous he’d be angry? Because I would have been angry. I might have even accused him of being careless, or questioned how he didn’t notice it falling off the keyring. Many times, we do not like to extend grace to others. We like it for ourselves, but when others are concerned, we want them to get what we believe they deserve.
“Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth” (Romans 2:2)
In the court system, to be a judge, several requirements must be met. First, judges must be experts in our laws, they must be citizens, and they must meet certain residency requirements to serve. Then, when performing their duty, judges must be impartial and fair. Their decisions are rendered based on facts alone, and there is no room for opinion, favoritism, or ignorance of the law. A lot of requirements must be met before a person is qualified to be a judge in our court system.
If we leave judgment to God, we will fully benefit from His mercy.
The same is true in the heavenly realm. There are many requirements for being qualified to render judgment. In the previous verse, Paul has just disqualified mankind from this role. “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” (Rom. 2:1). Our participation in sin excludes us from being qualified to judge anyone fairly.