Paul's Letter to the Saints at Rome

by Bryan Vinson, Sr.

Rewritten In Simple English With Notes

by Paul K. Williams

Chapter Two

Verses 1-3: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

There is a principle which Paul here uses to condemn many people. The principle is that God is impartial in His judgment. The one who passes judgment has no excuse because you who judge practice the same things. Jesus taught this in Matthew 7:1. There were people who were passing judgment yet were practicing the very things they condemned. How could they do this? They could do this only if they believed that God was partial, that God is a respecter of persons. Paul denies that.

There is a religious doctrine taught today which says that God is partial. The doctrine says, “Once a person is saved, he cannot be lost. He will go to heaven even if he commits many sins.” This doctrine is called, “Once saved, always saved,” and it denies that God’s judgment rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

Paul’s statement shows that there were people who thought that the Gentiles described in chapter one were condemned, but they also thought they could do the same things without being condemned. These people must have been Jews. They thought that because they were the chosen people of God, they would be saved even though they were committing sins.

Justice and truth are the qualities which God must have in order to be the righteous Judge. If some people must be punished for their sins while others who do the same things are not punished, those qualities are destroyed and God cannot be the righteous Judge. Human judges do not always follow the principles of justice and truth, but when God judges He always follows justice and truth.

It was right for the Jews to condemn the Gentiles in their evil conduct. But the Jews also were condemned for their sins. When they condemned the Gentiles they were proving that they themselves also should be condemned.

Verse 4: Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Repentance shows that the person knows that he is guilty, and it shows that the sinner understands that the One he has sinned against is infinitely good. Tolerance and patience grow out of God’s goodness.

God was always very good to the Jews, and He showed great tolerance (forbearance) and patience (longsuffering) toward them in their sins. He gave them time to repent, showing them many evidences of His goodness. But they despised all of these good things, and they did not pay attention to God’s warnings. They treated God in a bad way. The result is found in the next verses:

Verses 5-6: 5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God 6 who will render to each person according to his deeds:

This statement points to God’s judgment and what leads to it. First, this judgment is a righteous one. God will judge according to what is true and what is just. Further, His judgment will be individual. God does not judge groups of people; He judges each person separately. This should lead us to understand that what others do or fail to do makes no difference to our judgment. The deeds by which we will be judged are everything the person has done—his thoughts, words and actions. These deeds are done in the body, that is, while we live here (2 Corinthians 5:10). God does not judge us by what we do out of the body or what we do after we die.

The deeds we do in the body are storing up something. Jesus taught that we should not lay up treasures on earth, but should lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). So we are all gathering and increasing treasures for eternity. The people Paul is writing about are storing up wrath. This is God’s wrath (righteous anger) directed toward the sinner. The day is the day of judgment which is, of course, the day of wrath for the sinner. That day will reveal the wrath of God when He causes the sinner to be punished.

Verses 7-11: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek 11 For there is no partiality with God.

This sets forth an event which is coming and from which we cannot escape. It is when God will finally punish or reward every individual who has ever lived. His judgment will be eternal (Matthew 25:46) and therefore will never be changed. There are only two destinies for everyone—one of blessedness and unending happiness, and the other of never-ending pain and suffering. This judgment will show finally and completely that God does not show partiality.

At the house of Cornelius God showed Peter that He does not make a difference between persons. Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). If God’s judgment is just, He must be impartial. Christians must be like God. We must not make a difference between persons (James 2:1-4).

But God does see the difference in character.

When Paul describes those who will receive eternal life, he writes that they are seeking for something. If they are seeking for it, they have not yet received it. They are seeking for glory and honor and immortality. The words “mortal” (subject to death) and “immortal” (never dying) are always used to refer to man’s body, not his spirit. Therefore glory, honour and immortality are what we will receive in the resurrection. No one has them while he is still living on the earth.

The way we seek glory, honour and immortality is by perseverance in doing good. We get these blessings by patiently doing our duty toward God and never giving up.

The word eternal describes the length of time we shall have life. The character of the life is a life of honour, glory and immortality. And it will never end. Praise God!

Verses 9 and 10 repeat what was said in verses 7 and 8. He who does good is the one who continues patiently in doing good, and the reward is for everyone who does good whether he is a Jew or a Gentile. In this life we have our differences of race, of politics, of social classes, but all these apply only to life on earth. These differences do not continue into the day of judgment and they do not affect how God will judge us. We have to understand these differences and act wisely according to them while we live, but they do not affect how God judges us.

The children of God have peace now, but the peace of these verses is for that time when glory and honour shall be given to the righteous. In that endless realm there will be nothing to disturb the peace enjoyed by the redeemed. It shall be everywhere and endless.

Those who are selfishly ambitious are the ones who are against the truth and what it demands. Their ambition is shown in their disobedience, and their character is evil because they do evil. Because they do evil they are condemned, and because they have rejected the truth they will never be delivered from that condemnation.

The terms wrath and indignation describe God’s attitude and feelings toward them because of their evil. Tribulation and distress describe the suffering which they shall endure because of God’s wrath and indignation. God shows His wrath and indignation by pouring out on them endless punishment.

Verses 12-16: 12 ¶ For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Here human beings are separated into two classes: those who are without the Law and those who are under the Law. Both sin. But according to 1 John 3:4 sin is the transgression of the law (God’s law), and where there is no law there can be no sin (Romans 4:15; 5:13). We must understand then that the Law means “the Law of Moses”. Those without the Law were the Gentiles who were not under the Law of Moses, yet were still under law to God.

Law is the expression of the will of the lawgiver. God had to give His law to the Gentiles before they could be under it. Just what that law contained is not stated, but it must have included some of those things which were in the Law of Moses because Paul says they did those things. Paul does not say how they received this law, but most likely it carried down from that early period when God first spoke to man.

Any law will justify the person who never breaks it, but Paul is only talking about being condemned by law. Those not under the Law were not condemned by it. But those who were under the Law had to obey it, and their condemnation came because they disobeyed it. The Jews loved to hear the Law read, and evidently they thought this was all they had to do. They did not think they had to live by all that the Law said they were to do.

They are not the only ones who think that way. Even today many Christians listen to sermons and go to Bible classes, thinking that when they do that they are doing the will of Christ. This passage though shows the big difference between hearing and doing. There can be no doing without hearing, but there is much more hearing than doing.

The just are those who are justified (made sinless) by God. They are the ones who are not condemned. One may be just in the eyes of men and be condemned by God. Being just is the greatest need of every person. Those who think soberly want this above all other things.

Paul says the Gentiles do the things of the law instinctively. God gave law to the whole world from the beginning of time. We cannot know how much knowledge of this law remained in the memory of the Gentiles. But though there may have been a faint remembrance of this law, there is within the nature of man a sense of the rightness or wrongness of certain acts. This is true because he is a moral creature, made in the image of God. This is the area where, being without a written law, their conscience bore witness to the character of their acts, and their thoughts either accused or excused them. This natural capacity of telling the difference between right and wrong caused some to do those things contained in the Law, not because it was in the Law of Moses (for it was not given to them and they did not have it) but because of this inborn moral sense of right and wrong.

(Note: Clinton Hamilton explains: “These Gentiles who practice what the law commands do so by nature. This evidently means that they have a sense of right and wrong developed by observing what had been handed down by tradition, and by reflecting on the natural order of the created world.” Then he gives several examples of how men can see from practice that murder, theft, and lying are not good. He continues: “These Gentiles become a law to themselves. Their conscience is such that they must observe what they believe is right. This is their law. Some of these things agree with what the written law from God demands. But they came to their conviction in the natural order and not by being instructed in the law.” Truth Commentary, The Book of Romans, pages 140-141.

Jim McGuiggan points out: “We must not confuse moral capacity with knowledge of God’s commands. Before the laws are made known there is the moral capacity… One thing is clear, if people learn God’s laws from rational deduction (reasoning) they didn’t learn it from inborn moral knowledge.” The Book of Romans, pages 101, 102.

These two commentators agree that there is no inborn law in man. The law which the Gentiles do by nature is what men have discovered by practice is good. I think this is right. PKW)

Because the Gentiles went further and further away from the knowledge of God, their consciences were affected. The more they denied God and showed their dislike for Him, the harder their consciences became. The same thing is true today. Ungodliness and unrighteousness are increasing everywhere, and this is evidence that many have reprobate minds with consciences which no longer work.

The expression “according to my gospel” does not mean that the Jews and Gentiles of whom Paul writes will be judged by the gospel Paul preached. It means that the day of judgment in which they shall be judged is the time the gospel reveals as the day of judgment. Those Jews and Gentiles who lived before the time of the gospel will not be judged by the gospel. The truth of the gospel includes the teaching of the judgment of all men, and each shall be judged by the law under which he lived. Otherwise the judgment could not be just.

Verses 17-20: 17 ¶ But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God 18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,

The Jew had confidence that he would go to heaven because of two things: first, he was a Jew; and second, he relied upon the Law. In chapter 3 Paul writes that the Jew had an advantage over the Gentile because God gave him the oracles of God. Here we see that the Jew relied on that Law. They were also confident of going to heaven because they were the descendants of Abraham. John the Baptist rebuked the Jews for this when he said to them, “and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). John the Baptist was sent by God because the Jews were not ready for the Messiah. He came to turn the Jews back to God. Being the children of Abraham and having the Law of Moses were not enough to save them.

Then Paul shows how the Jews thought of themselves. They were very proud of their knowledge of God, that they knew what was right, and that they could teach others what was right.

Their pride in these things increased their guilt. They were hypocrites. They taught others but the Gentiles did not listen. The reason given is in the following verses.

This passage clearly describes the state of the Jews when Jesus taught among them. It shows why Paul was right in condemning them for their great hypocrisy. They were proud of being the people of the true God, but they did not obey His will.

Paul’s description of those Jews can be applied to many of us today. We proudly say that we have the truth and do not follow human creeds, that we are members of the one true body of Christ and not of human denominations. Yet we fail to show in our lives the spirit and behavior which should come from such wonderful things. We must never forget that the Lord knows this very well, and He will judge us in the same way that He judged the Jews of Paul’s day.

The Jews had the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law, but their traditions destroyed the effectiveness of this truth and knowledge in their lives. Human traditions were always the poison which caused people to fall away from the truth because as these traditions grew they more and more became a substitute for the truth of the Law. By their traditions the Jews transgressed the commandment of God (Matthew 15:3). By our traditions we transgress the gospel of Christ! Human traditions not only take the place of the truth, but they make the truth hard to see and cause people to dislike it. This leads people to know less and less of the truth.

Verses 21-22a: 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?

These two sins come within the moral law. They apply to all men whether they are in covenant relation with God or not. It is a great inconsistency for one to try to teach others what is wrong with the things he himself is practicing. The only way such a person can excuse his conduct is for him to believe that the sinful acts of one who is not a child of God are not sins when they are committed by a child of God. But Paul condemns this idea when he asks the questions of these verses.

If a Christian today is willing to condemn others for acts of which he (the Christian) is guilty, his actions show that he believes a Christian cannot sin. Yet John wrote exhorting brethren not to sin, and said that we all sin (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1). There is an idea which is the opposite of this. Some teach that it is all right for those who are not Christians to fight in defence of their country, but it is a sin if Christians do that!

Christians are told, “Let him who steals steal no more” (Ephesians 4:28), and “Flee immorality (fornication)” (1 Corinthians 6:18). These words tell us that we must guard ourselves against those sins because we may fall into them. But this is quite different from commanding this of others while we are doing those evil things.

Verse 22b: You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

Now Paul writes about spiritual conduct. He pictures the same sort of contradiction between what one pretends to believe and what one does. It is right to abhor (hate) idols , but it is wrong to rob temples. If you do this while you abhor idols, your guilt is made worse. The thought suggested is that while they condemned the worship of idols they would steal idols from heathen temples, and the only reason to steal them must have been to worship them!

The King James Version translates this phrase, commit sacrilege. To commit sacrilege is to make sacred things common or unholy. In this general sense it would include any act where the holy is mixed with the unholy. It would include introducing human practices into the area of divine things. When one does that, he shows that human things are equal in worth to the things given by God. This is sacrilegious. The Jews were accused of this in Ezekiel 22:26. “Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them”. In modern religion this is being done in many areas. Any new practice different from what God has given is an act of sacrilege.

Verse 23: You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

This states clearly that breaking law dishonors (shames) him whose law it is. To break the law of the government shows disrespect for the government. When children disobey parents they dishonour them. This is why the command “Honor your father and mother” means to obey them. When the Jews broke the Law they “despised Moses’ law” and dishonoured God who gave it.

We honour the one who gave the law when we obey the law, and when we disobey the law we dishonour the one who gave it whether the law is from men or from God. This is why when there is a conflict between the laws of men and the law of God we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). We must honour God above all others. So it does not matter what the law is. If we disrespect the law, we disrespect the one who gave it. So the good of any law is not in the law but comes from the one who gave the law. Therefore when people refuse to obey the gospel they are showing disrespect for the Lord who gave its requirements, including baptism. This is why when we break one commandment of the law we are guilty of all. Each point of the law came from the lawgiver. To show disrespect for any one law is to show disrespect for the lawgiver.

Verse 24: For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.

This is the most serious charge which can be made against anyone. The Jews claimed to love God, but their lives showed the opposite. Not only did this cause their ruin, but it ruined those whom they sought to proselyte (convert) to their faith. This difference between what men claim to believe and what they practice has caused more injury to the cause of truth than anything else. The Jews claimed their God was the only true God, yet their lives caused the Gentiles to think that the God of the Jews was not what the Jews said He was. Even so today among those who claim to follow the Christ there is such a great difference between what they say they are and what they really are that the unbelieving world does not feel attracted to Christianity.

But unbelievers should go back to what the Bible says, to the practice of the church in the first century before men changed from the faith and practice revealed in the gospel. Only in the New Testament can one learn what the early Christians believed, taught and practiced. You are deceiving yourself when you judge Christianity by what men do instead of judging it by the claims of the gospel itself. Those who say they believe in the completeness of the scriptures and in the one Lord and His church often live far beneath the level that such belief requires and was shown in the lives of the first Christians. This is true not only in the individual behavior of Christians and in their daily moral conduct, but it is also seen in the repeated desire to corrupt the spiritual work and worship of the church.

Verses 25-27: 25 ¶ For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision 27 And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?

The apostle here continues his comparison between the Jew and Gentile so that the condition of the Jews will be more clearly seen. He does this by comparing their behavior with the behavior of some Gentiles. His purpose is not to justify the Gentiles because the description of them in the first chapter shows that they should be condemned.

The Jews relied too much on outward acts of worship. They did not have the internal qualities of character shown by a life of righteousness. This was especially true in the way they looked at circumcision. Circumcision to them was a sign of their covenant relation to God. They came into this relationship at birth, so circumcision was not the thing which put them into the covenant. If they failed to be circumcised they would be cut off from the covenant, yet circumcision was not enough to keep them in the favour of God. They had to keep the Law. Whatever good thing came from circumcision came only if they kept the Law. This means that when they broke the Law, circumcision became worthless and it was as if they were uncircumcised.

On the other hand the Gentiles were uncircumcised. Paul paints an imaginary picture of them as if they keep the righteousness of the Law. If they do that, will they not be accepted by God as though they were circumcised? This is the question which the Jew needed to answer. Paul is saying that when the Gentiles keep the moral requirements of the Law, even though they are uncircumcised they become righteous. This shows the absolute necessity of keeping the Law.

This does not mean that the Jew could keep the Law without circumcision and be approved by God. The Jews were required to be circumcised. The Gentiles were not. Paul says nothing here which will allow a person to neglect any requirement of God. If God had required the Gentiles to be circumcised Paul could not have written what he did. Gentiles did not have to be circumcised because circumcision was only for those who were in covenant relationship with God—the Jews.

Many have made a comparison between circumcision and baptism, saying that baptism is not necessary if one believes in Christ and lives a good life. But there is an important difference. The Gentiles were never required to be circumcised. That is why they could be righteous without circumcision. Baptism is required of all believers, both Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3:27-28). We cannot be righteous without it.

Now if the Gentile obeys the law, what effect will that have on the disobedient Jew? By his obedience he condemns the disobedient. This principle has always been true. It was true of Noah in his condemnation of the world. He did what God commanded and in so doing showed his condemnation of those who did not. Even so today those who obey the gospel and live according to its teaching condemn those who refuse to obey—simply by their example of obedience.

Verses 28-29: 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Paul is not teaching here that a Jew is not a Jew, for this would be contrary to clear facts. This is an example of using a negative in order to emphasize that the positive is greater. That is, he is not the Jew God approves of who is simply a Jew. God approves of the Jew whom Paul describes. Of course circumcision is outward in the flesh, and this is the way the Jews were circumcised. But Paul means that this is not enough. It was not enough when the Law was still God’s Law; it is certainly not enough now.

Here we find the terms “letter” and “spirit” used in contrast for the first time. They are found also in chapter seven and in 2 Corinthians 3:6. In both these places the meaning is clearly a contrast between the law and the gospel, between the first and second covenants. Therefore I feel that Paul is here using the thought of verses 26-27 to shift the thought from fleshly Israel to spiritual Israel. The Law was written on tables of stone and it had many carnal (fleshly) commandments. Christ’s new order introduces a very different system which works on its subjects from within rather than from without. Men cannot read the thoughts and know the motives of one another. This causes us to praise or condemn one another on the basis of what we see outwardly in one another. But God can and does look within. We need to first “make the inside of the platter clean” (Matthew 23:26). The law which God has given to control our lives is to be written in our hearts and minds.

Because we fail to understand that God’s interest is in what goes on in our hearts, we listen too much to the praises of men. There were those who, though they believed in Christ, would not confess him. They were afraid that they would be put out of the synagogue (John 12:42-43). Why? They loved the praises of men more than the favour of God. There are many like them still, wanting the praise of men and therefore pleasing men in what they do in religion and other things. Jesus condemned this condition in the strongest words.

At the time Paul wrote one was a Jew who was born of Jewish parents, who broke the Law and depended on circumcision, while he who was the Jew was he who kept the Law and appreciated the proper place of circumcision. Today one is a Christian by the new birth, but he must continue to follow Christ in order to go to heaven. To say that one who has been born again will go to heaven even if he does not live a life of obedience to Christ is to do the same as the Jew who thought that because he was circumcised physically he would go to heaven. To be the Christian whom God favours and saves is to be the one who continues to follow the Savior in all things.

↢ Previous Next ↣