In the first entry of this Devotional Commentary, we took a look at chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We considered some of the contexts of the letter, its structure and its purpose so that we can better understand the message Paul was conveying. We then took a look at the text, verse-by-verse, as we considered some devotional applications for us today. If you missed the previous article, it would be good to go back and read it as it gives some needed context to where we are in the text.
This second article will be similar – jumping straight into the text and providing relevant commentary. These articles are not meant to be academic, but rather more devotional as they come from my own personal studies in these chapters. I hope you find it edifying to your own walk!
What follows here is my devotional commentary. The Scripture text is taken from the ESV with my commentary below.
1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Verse 1: Therefore, because of everything in chapter 1—the suppression of clear truth and the willing exchange—they have no excuse. Paul again usesthe word from the previous chapter, ἀναπολογήτους—without an apologetic or defence. FOR, as they judge such things on others, it shows they know these things and thereby condemn themselves. The law written on the heart of man leave him without excuse.
Verse 2: They practice such things. The emphasis here is on an ongoing practice or lifestyle of sinful rebellion. An example description of this lifestyle was given in the previous chapter. This is not merely a one-off mistake, this is a continuing practice in unrepentance that warrants God’s judgment.
Verses 3-4: They wrongfully presume on God’s kindness—it should instead lead to repentance, not approval of evil! Literally it says that they καταφρονεῖς (kataphroneis)—despise or scorn—God’s kindness, forbearance and patience. This is why they cannot escape judgment. God’s forebearance was supposed to lead them to see how merciful, patient and gracious He is so that they would turn from their sin. Instead, they harden their hearts by presuming that God is like a doting and enabling grandparent who would never punish. This sort of attitude is a dire mistake.
5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Verse 5: For this reason—their hard and impenitent hearts—instead of dispelling wrath by repentance, they store it up! It is like a mountain being accumulated with every sin and misdeed – like adding a stone to the pile each time. What a terrible thought—that one day—that mountain of wrath which they’ve stored up will come crashing down on them!
Verse 6: κατὰ τὰ ἔργα (kata ta erga)—”according to the works”—is an important, often repeated phrase. It shows God’s righteous judgment on the Day of Judgment according to what a person has actually done, not just alleged accusations. Justice is truly served. God’s judgment is always measured and proportionate.
Verse 7: Verse 7 explains these works positively for those who will be given eternal life. They, by patiently doing well, seek for glory, honour and immortality. if we were to patiently do well and seek after those things which God approves, it would merit us eternal life according to our works. However, we know that no one does that perfectly. Even our best attempts are often tainted by sinful desires, motives and intents.
Verse 8: Verse 8 explains these works negatively for those who will be given wrath and fury. They are self-seeking, don’t obey the very truth they know but rather obey unrighteousness—these are those described prior in the chapter. This couplet of the postive and negative reward according to works shows God’s fair judgment and justice.
Verses 9-11: This judgment is done evenly and impartially to all who do evil—regardless of their religious or ethnic pedigree on the Day of Wrath. God is not biased. There is no excuse (as Paul has built his argument) for anyone. ALL are guilty, both Jews and Gentiles. Paul has taken and will continue to take great pains to make this clear. This is an incredibly weighty passage to sit under!
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 righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Verses 12-13: Furthermore, God’s judgment is fair since only those under the law are judged by it. However, notice the difference—those who sinned without the law ἀπολοῦνται (apolountai) “will perish or be destroyed.” However, those who sinned under the law κριθήσονται (krithēsontai) “will be judged or brought to trial.” Although the end for both groups is the same, only those with the law will be held accountable to answer to it – that is, judged or brought to trial by it. This is how God doesn’t show partiality (verse 11). This also demonstrates how God’s judgment is according to knowledge.
Verses 14-16: However, Gentiles still are not excused. They have all of Paul’s argument in chapter 1 of God’s revelation in creation being made plain to them, the law written on their hearts, their conscience and thoughts which will testify against them on the Day of Judgment. When non-Jews do what is right by nature, it becomes a law unto themselves and shows that they have that knowledge inherently, though they may not have it written on paper. Verse 15 tells us that the law “written on their hearts” is shown, or made manifestly clear as evidence of this truth. This is even to the point that their thoughts are conflicting—both accusing and defending themselves with the same depraved mind they have been given over to. This is exactly what we saw at the end of chapter 1 with those who “give approval to those who practice such things.”
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Verses 17-24: Paul had previously dealt with the Gentiles/non-Jews in verses 14-16. However, in case at this point the Jews were getting a bit haughty, he uses an “IF/THEN” clause to expose the hypocrisy of the Jews.
Verses 17-18: Because they had the law, they said they relied on it, boasted in God, knew His will and approved what was excellent. How often we can become consceited with knowledge!
Verses 19-20: They had the law which they considered the embodiment of knowledge. The term used here, μόρφωσιν (morphōsin) “form, embodiment, semblance” is also used in 2 Timothy 3:5 speaking about those who have a μόρφωσιν (form) of godliness, but deny its power. This is quite an appropriate description for the Jews who thought they were the guides to the blind, light to those in darkness and teachers—which is what they were supposed to be! However, instead it caused them to be proud and self-righteous, not realizing that it was not just the possession or knowledge of the law which would justify, but the practicing of it.
Verses 21-22: This is a list of rhetorical questions exposing how they have failed at keeping the very law they boasted in possessing. We could just as easily turn these questions on ourselves and expose how sinful we are! Paul is making use of one of the functions of the law – to expose and convict us of our sin.
Verses 23-24: This is Paul’s indictment against the Jews. For this reason, God’s Name was blasphemed among the Gentiles. They, and we, are not able to keep the requirements of the law. Thus, those outside look on and see the hypocrisy.
25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Verse 25: The circumcision they boasted in is only of value if they keep the covenant it was meant to symbolize. The symbol of the covenant (circumcision) itself did not save them, that’s why breaking the covenant made their circumcision to uncircumcision.
Verses 26-27: This is an “IF/THEN” clause. Paul argues that since it isn’t just the symbol but the keeping of the covenant that justifies, then even the one without the symbol (the uncircumcised), if they fulfil the covenant they would be regarded as justified. Therefore, the one who keeps the law naturally without the law condemns those with the law who break it. The written law or code is of no effect or benefit if it is never obeyed!
Verse 28: The true Jew was not just one who had the physical and outward signs. The true Jew is the one who keeps the law inwardly – as all the laws were not meant to just be outward observances but obedience from the heart. The problem then is not merely external law-breaking but internal lawlessness in the heart.
Verse 29: True circumcision is from the heart by the Spirit, not the law! This is why later in Romans 9:6 Paul will argue that not all who are descended from Israel are truly members of God’s people. This is why in the Old Testament we see many Jews go apostate and rebel against God – they were not of “true Israel”. They were not “true Jews”. Furthermore, Paul has effectively put this “true Jew or circumcision” out of the reach of every Jew since it is something they cannot do for themselves, but rather has to be done “by the Spirit” NOT by the law. This is why Paul puts the last phrase in there. The true Jew’s praise ultimately will be from God, not man, because it was nothing that man could do to make him truly part of God’s chosen people.
This is where Paul leaves us in chapter 2—to be continued in chapter 3.
Paul’s argument so far has been to show clearly and unavoidably that we are all ἀναπολογήτους (anapologētous)—without an apologetic or defence. God is totally just to judge those who practice unrighteousness, as we all do. For those who presume upon God’s kindness do so wrongly, because it was meant to lead them to repentance not to a continuance in willing rebellion and approval of what is evil.
For those today who often give the rebuttal, “but I thought God was a God of love? Won’t He just forgive us?”—they fail to recognize that this very same God of love is also the God of righteousness, judgement and wrath. We cannot separate God’s attributes as if He were some made up of parts that could be disconnected. Love cannot be truly good if it is unjust. Love does not rejoice in wrong (1 Cor. 13:6).
God’s kindness and forbearance was never meant to be a license to sin. By abusing it, they show that they actually scorn it by treating it as something pithy or something they are entitled to. Instead of relenting and repenting, they store up wrath for themselves on the Day of Judgment. Ironically, those who get angry at God’s wrath show their own fury, but don’t want to grant God the same right to His just fury when He is offended. Do we ourselves scorn God’s grace by using it as a license for sin? Do we willingly rebel, repeatedly sin, thinking, “oh God will forgive me, that’s His job”? Let us not forget, His title is also Judge of all the earth! And He will do that which is just.
God’s judgment is fair as He renders to each one “according to their works.” Each person reaps what they sow. However, there is a problem—no one is able to fulfil God’s righteous requirements of the law, neither the Jew or Gentile. Though the Gentile without the law perishes apart from it, and the Jew is judged according to it, in the end—both are condemned. Even without the law, people still do not have enough to be saved, they only have enough knowledge to convict them and be found guilty. They have what Paul has said was made plain to them through creation in chapter 1 and the “law written on their hearts” which convicts them through their conscience. Because of this wrestle between what they know to be right and their rebellion—they have a conflicted mind which both accuses and makes excuses to try to comfort their feelings of guilt. Is this not what we see at work today in the lives of many and our own!? However, on the Last Day, these will be evidences which convict people and render God’s judgment as wholly just.
As if at this point the Jews may think they have something to boast in because they are the ones to whom the law was given, far from boasting, it is actually to their shame. Paul exposes their hypocrisy in knowing what the law commands but not doing it. How are we doing? Do we think that because we know God’s Word, listen to sermons and read sound theology that it’s reason for boasting? Far from being the people who bring honour to God by keeping His law, they have brought shame to His Name. Indeed, this “true circumcision” was something which was out of their ability to achieve for themselves. All along, even in the OT, justification has been by grace through faith not of works (Eph. 2:8). There is no disconnect between the God of the OT and the God of the NT. Salvation has and always will belong to God alone. Just like the Jews we need God to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves—a true circumcision of the heart.
Lord, we know that we and all those apart from your grace rightly deserve the due punishment for our sins. We are without an excuse and You are the righteous Judge. May we never abuse your kindness and forbearance, but may it lead us to repentance and a changed attitude toward sin. May we not bring shame to Your Name as those who bear the name “Christian” often do. May we not use Your grace as a license to sin, but may it lead us to a thankful and loving response of worship and righteous living. Would you circumcise our hearts and do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves—make us able to live lives which are pleasing and honouring to You!
God we pray for those who are still lost in their rebellion—our friends and family—would you open up their eyes to their need for you and their inability to justify themselves. Would Your word go out with power to convict people of sin and judgment through the work of Your Spirit. May You use us as your witnesses to this world, to the glory of Your Name alone—for salvation belongs to You alone. Help us to never lose the joy of our salvation, and to never forget the great value of riches of grace you have lavished upon us in Christ Jesus. May we be humbled in this study of Romans to see that we were once also lost in our sins but You were merciful to save us according to Your sovereign good pleasure and purposes.