The Result is Eternal Life—Romans 2:6-10
“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).
What Paul is describing as the behavior rewarded by eternal life is faith as an action. The Book of James observes something similar: True faith is always accompanied by actions. “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). In other words, real faith will always be recognizable by behavior.
What this passage means, on the one hand, is for those whose faith is real, a natural result will be “seeking glory, honor and immortality,” or the things of God. On the other hand, rejecting the truth brings wrath. It all boils down to a choice and the corresponding actions associated with that choice.
This is the culmination of the charge Paul is making against humanity: We failed to recognize and honor God (Rom. 1:21). We exchanged His truth for lies and worshipped other things (Rom. 1:25). We gave approval to sin (Rom. 1:32). We judged others while doing the same things (Rom. 2:2). And finally, we remained stubborn and unwilling to repent (Rom. 2:5). So it makes sense that those who continually do these things can expect wrath and anger in the end (Rom. 2:8-9).
This is why we need a savior. It is my prayer that you make the choice to trust Jesus, and this choice will encourage you to do good deeds stemming from faith and flowing out of His goodness and love.
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Original article published June 5, 2009.