If you have to sum up Romans 2 in one sentence it would be this: religious people are filled with unrighteousness. We operate in the misconception that religious acts and rituals make us better than everyone else. Let’s look at the text and examine it:
1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
At the end of Romans 1 we find out that all nations have fallen to some degree or another into a spiral of unrighteousness, their minds becoming darker and darker. The natural response of a religious person when they see the nations and their communities acting unrighteously is to judge them
Paul is saying here something very powerful: he is saying that religious people who judge the unrighteousness of others are just as unrighteous and do the same sinful acts. Why do religious people judge others then? They think that their religious acts and deeds make them righteous even though they have committed unrighteous acts. Even though they have been selfish, ungrateful, they have lied, they have stolen, they have lusted after women and men in their hearts, they actually believe – and many people believe this today – that performing religious rituals makes them righteous!
We need to realize that righteous and unrighteous are legal terms. We could replace them with innocent and guilty. Do we honestly think that a man in a court of law who has brutally murdered a child could be found innocent because he has read a nice poem? That because he goes to church every week he should be innocent? No – we know that a court of law is not based on ritual but on actions. Paul is saying that the court of heaven is the same: merely being religious and going to church and reading your Bible is not going to make you righteous. If you have done unrighteous deeds, you are unrighteous, and God declared you guilty. You will endure hell on earth and go to hell when you die, and religious can not and will not save you.
2But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
3And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
Paul is saying that God judges fairly – according to truth. You do not become God’s buddy because you read your chapter today and therefore God will let you off from your actions that have made you guilty. God is not a corrupt judge but a pure, honest and truthful judge. If you are guilty of breaking God’s law on even a single point, you are guilty. You are unrighteous. And a religious ritual cannot mean you can avoid God’s judgment. Let me say this unequivocally: there is NO religious ceremony that can make you innocent before God. In fact, there is no action you can take, religious or otherwise, that can make you innocent before God.
4Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
I love reading Paul’s writings. He is a man with such a passion for the Lord. Paul is trying to make a logical argument. This step of the argument involves Paul teaching us that religious ritual cannot make you righteous before God. But two whole chapters before he introduces the solution, Paul cannot help but blurt out: “the answer is in the goodness of God. That makes us change.” It is wonderful to know that God, in His goodness, has provided a solution for man’s unrighteousness. We shall examine that solution in Romans 4 and 5, but for now just know: the solution to the universal, inescapable unrighteousness of mankind is found in the goodness of God.
5But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
Even your rituals cannot save you if your heart is hard.
6Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
God is not judging you by your rituals or your religiosity but by your actions. If you have committed one unrighteous act, you are unrighteous and you will be found unrighteous.
7To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:
11For there is no respect of persons with God.
God rewards good and punishes evil. He does not play favourite. Being Jewish will not make you righteous. Going to church will not make you righteous. Only consistent good actions will make the grade, and no-one has ever lived according to that standard – even religious people.
12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
If you have never been told about God’s law, will God be fair in judging you according to it on the day of Judgment? The answer is yes because God has put a law in your hearts and will judge you according to that. Every time you do something you know in your heart is wrong, you are unrighteous and will be judged by God on judgment day and no amount of religious ritual will count for you.
God does not have a giant set of scales in heaven and He weighs all your good deeds against your bad deeds. That is heresy. Muslims believe that, some Christians believe that, but it is the exact opposite of the Biblical teaching.
One act of unrighteousness makes you unrighteous, and no amount of religius ritual can change that.
17Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
18And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
19And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
20An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
And those that have heard the law of God will be judged according to the law. If you have the law of God and think it makes you better than other people, actually all you are admitting is that you had more knowledge of right and wrong than other people and yet you still acted wrong.
21Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
22Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
23Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
24For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
In fact, doing religious acts while being unrighteous simply makes you a hypocrite. You steal and then go to church. You lust and then pray, you make idols and worship them and then worship God. Not only that, but your hypocrisy blasphemes God’s name because everyone realizes that religious people are just as bad as anyone else.
25For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
Here Paul is specifically dealing with circumcision and saying it is worthless if you have ever broken the law of God. But his argument could apply to any religious ritual. You understand if you are unrighteous, and you go to church, going to church is worth nothing.
Think about it: if someone picks up something you have dropped and is kind to you, that will mean something to you. If you later find out that the person who was kind to you is a serial killer and worse, their act of kindness is meaningless to you. It is the same when someone who lies or steals goes to church to worship God, it is meaningless.
26Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
27And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
I am not going to engage the question what is a real Jew because I want to run through Romans not crawl! If you want to discuss that issue, leave a comment and we can do it there. However, let me say this: Paul concludes this chapter by saying the single most important religious ceremony of the Jewish faith is of no value at all if you are unrighteous.
And we know from Romans 1 that every human is unrighteous. Soon we will find out the solution of God, but like Paul does in Romans, we need to realize how precious that solution is. The only way we can realize how great our salvation is, is to realize how great our unrighteousness is and how futile religion is at dealing with unrighteous. Too many Christians have failed to realize that it is essential that we know that we by our actions are unrighteousness and that religion is no solution to the problem of unrighteousness. Therefore their salvation is shallow and their lives are unfruitful. So many Christians who love Romans 5 and Romans 8, but don’t know how Paul logically took the Romans to those chapters. By going through the book like this, we are forced to follow Paul’s argument. It will make us stronger Christians, and more effective witnesses. It will also make us more peaceful and more joyous.
There will be many people on Judgment Day expecting their rituals, their rites, their religious acts to weigh against their bad deeds. They are so wrong. There are many people judging themselves against other people, saying they are so bad, but I am not so bad. But Paul’s words are as true today as they have every been: you do the same things.
James says it like this: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2.10).
Imagine that: you break one law and you are unrighteous, as guilty as if you had broken them all. That is the truth of the Bible. God will judge you on Judgment Day and your punishment will be eternal hell unless you know the answer to the question: how can a man be made righteous. Unless you realize that Romans 1-3 shows that conclusively there is none righteous no not one, then the righteousness that you will see in Romans 4-5 wil be meaningless to you.
In the next couple of studies we are going to examine this in detail. You will not ever be able to say you do not know how to be made righteous. And you will not ever be able to say you did not know how unrighteous you were.