Romans 3:1-8 The faithfulness of God

3:1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 3:2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Context – The last verses of the previous chapter compared Jews and Gentiles, and stated that circumcision, in itself, has no value.  This gave rise to the question in 3:1: what is the advantage of being a Jew?

Circumcision – Note how “circumcision” is used here more or less as a synonym for “Jew”.  It has become the major mark of identification of the Jews.

Oracles – Verse 2 responds that, to be a Jew, has many great advantages.  Most importantly, they were “entrusted with the oracles of God”, also translated as “the Words of God” (LITV).  The Bible is the word of the living God. It is eternal wisdom. It reveals to us the mysteries of the distant past, and the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  It sheds a glorious light on the world to come.  It reveals the love of God in the plan of redemption.  His words are a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psa. 119:105).  It is manna from heaven.  It eases our fears, strengthens the intellect, guides our decisions, purifies the character and enriches the soul.

But we need Christ to open to the mind the meaning of His Word, and the Holy Spirit to convey its true significance. We say with the disciples on their way to Emmaus, when “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27):

Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24;32)?

Other benefits received by the Jews are listed in 9:4-5:

to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh

Entrusted The word “entrusted” in the original is related to “faith” and means that God, by giving them His Words, put His faith in them.  This word possibly implies that God’s Word were not given to the Jews for their benefit only, but that it has been entrusted to them for the benefit of the entire human race.

3:3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 3:4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.”

3:5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 3:6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?

3:7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 3:8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

These verses can be divided into three parts; each consists of an “if” question and a response.  If we fail to understand the context of these questions, they would seem rather strange:

How can “their unbelief” possibly “nullify the faithfulness of God”?

How can the righteousness of God be demonstrated by unrighteousness (3:5)?

Similarly how can the truth of God abound to His glory through a lie (3:5)?

Why should anyone ask, “why am I also still being judged as a sinner” for “my lie” (3:7) if the entire Bible argues that “God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (2:5-6)?

In summary it is proposed below that:

3:3-8 does not deal with people in general, but are exclusively about Jews.

Their unbelief” (3:3), “our unrighteousness” (3:5) and “my lie” refer not to general Jewish sins over centuries, but refer specifically to the Jewish rejection of Christ.

These verses deal with the same topic as Romans 9 and 11.  Put in that context the strange questions take on meaning.

The “unrighteousness” of the Jews in rejecting Christ made it much easier for non-Jews to become part of God’s people on earth.  In this sense “our (Jewish) unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” (3:5) and “through my (Jewish) lie the truth of God abounded to His glory” (3:7).

The real issue in 3:3-8 is whether God acted appropriately.  God made many promises to Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament.  The question whether “their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God” (3:3) is a question about these promises.  The question is, since Israel rejected Christ, did God break His promises to Israel?

God deliberately hardened Israel against Christ.  This is the conclusion of Romans 9 and 11.  Many people think these chapters deal with the election of individuals to salvation, but these chapters actually explain what happened to Israel, and the conclusion of those chapters is that God hardened Israel against Christ.  Therefore it is asked “why am I also still being judged as a sinner” for “my lie” (3:7).

These concepts will now be explained in more detail.

JEWS

It is proposed that 3:3-8 discuss Jews exclusively:

3:1-2 explicitly deals with Jews.  The “some” in 3:3 therefore refers to Jews.

3:1-2 states that Jews have many “advantages”.  3:9 says that “we” (Jews) are not “better than they” (Gentiles) (3:9).  3:9 therefore follows logically after 3:1-2.  These verses can be combined into a single thought that “we” Jews have many advantages, but “we” are not better than Gentiles.  Since this forms the boundary of 3:3-8, it is implied that the verses in-between are also discussing Jews.

The “our” (3:5) and “my” (3:7) therefore also refer to Jews.

One key to the interpretation of Paul’s writings is to know that he never jumps around randomly.  It may not always be easy to follow his logic, but generally one thought or sentence is always related to the previous thoughts.

JEWISH SIN

Each of the three sections refer to sin, namely “unbelief” (3:3), “our unrighteousness” (3:5) and “my lie” (3:7).  Since this entire section is about Jews, this refers to the “unrighteousness” of Jews.  Furthermore, since the “unbelief”, “unrighteousness” and “lie” are mentioned in the same context, they have the same Jewish sin in mind.

Romans 9 and 11 also deal with the nation of Israel (9:1-7; 11:1-2).  The foundational question in Romans 9 is whether “the word of God has failed” (9:6).  Since this question is answered by stating that “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel”, the question is therefore whether God’s word with respect to Israel has failed.  In other words, the question is whether God’s promises to Israel still stand.

The foundational question in Romans 11 is whether God “rejected His people” (11:1).

The unspoken context of both these questions is the fact that the nation of Israel, as a whole, rejected Christ.  11:30-32 confirms this by saying to the Gentiles (11:13):

For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these (the Jews) also now have been disobedient

9:32-33 explains how the Jews have “now … been disobedient”:

They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (9:32-33).

Both Romans 3 and 9-11 therefore deal with Jews, and both particularly deal with Jewish sin.  This article will continue below to point out many other parallels between 3:3-8 and Romans 9-11, and will conclude that 3:3-8 is actually part of the discussion in Romans 9-11.

On that basis it is proposed, since the Jewish sin in Romans 9-11 is the rejection of Christ, that the same sin is in view in 3:3-8.  It is proposed that the “unbelief” (3:3), “our unrighteousness” (3:5) and “my lie” (3:7) is not Israel’s unfaithfulness in general over the centuries, but specifically the Jewish rejection of Christ.

GOOD CONSEQUENCES

According to 3:3-8 this Jewish sin had good consequences, namely that it “demonstrates the righteousness of God” (3:5) and allowed “the truth of God” to abound “to His glory” (3:7).  3:8 similarly reports the distortion of Paul’s message as “Let us do evil that good may come“.

Romans 11 also contains the idea of “transgression” that has good consequences, but this chapter also explains in what way the Jewish sin has good consequences:

By their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).

Their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles” (11:12).

you (Gentiles) … now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience” (11:30)

It has been shown above that both 3:3-8 and Romans 9-11 deal with Jews and both deal with Jewish sin.  To this has now been added that both speak about good consequences of that sin.  This supports the notion that these two sections deal with the same subject.  Further evidence for this will be provided below.

On this basis it is proposed that the good consequences of the Jewish sin in 3:3-8 are the same as in Romans 11.  In other words, “our (Jewish) unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God” and “through my (Jewish) lie the truth of God abounded to His glory” because “by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).

It is by the rejection of Christ that “salvation has come to the Gentiles”.  This confirms the previous conclusion, namely that the “unrighteousness” (3:5) of the Jews, that is in view here, is particularly the rejection of Christ.

Faithfulness of God questioned

Note that the real issue in 3:3-8 is not the Jewish sin, but whether God acted appropriately.  This is indicated by the question about the appropriateness of God’s response after each of the three references to the Jewish sin:

… will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (3:3)
The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (3:5)
… why am I also still being judged as a sinner? (3:7)

Romans 9 and 11 also ask questions about the appropriateness of God’s actions.  These questions in Romans 3, 9 and 11 can be divided into two groups.  The first category of questions is about the fairness of God’s judgment.  Romans 3 asks:

The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He?” (3:5) and
why am I also still being judged as a sinner” (3:7)?

Since this section deals with Jews, and particularly with their rejection of Christ, the question is whether God’s judgment of the Jews, for their rejection of Christ, is fair.

Romans 9, after declaring “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18), similarly inquires:

Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (9:19)?

Romans 9 also asks about the fairness of God’s judgment, but this context reveals why God’s judgment is questioned.  The question is, if “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18), “why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (9:19)?  Put in this context the questions in 3:5 and 3:7 become logical.

The second category of questions is about God’s faithfulness to His promises to Israel.  Romans 9 and 11 ask whether “the word of God … failed” (9:6), and whether God “rejected His people” (11:1).  These effectively are questions about the promises previously made to Israel.  God’s promises to Israel include:

I will make them … a blessing. … they will be secure on their land. … when I … have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. … they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people” (Ezekiel 34:26-31)

Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, And the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child …? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. (Isaiah 49:8-16)

The questions in Romans 9 and 11 ask whether such promises still stand.  Compare the questions in Romans 9 and 11 to Romans 3:3, which asks:

If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

Because of the many parallels between 3:3-8 and Romans 9-11 it is proposed that this also asks whether God remains faithful to His promises to the Jews.  Both Romans 3 and 9-11 therefore ask whether God’s promises to Israel failed.

What did God do to Israel?

After posing these questions, Romans 3 claims that God did right (3:4, 6), but does not say what God did.  These verses only indicate that God remained faithful to His word that He gave to Israel (3:3-4), but that He “inflicts wrath” (3:5) and judges (the Jew) “as a sinner” (3:7).

Since it is proposed here that 3:3-8 introduces the great topic that is discussed more fully in Romans 9 and 11, and that these strange questions in 3:3-8 become logical in the context of Romans 9 and 11, and since this section will briefly discuss Romans 9-11, it is preferable to read the article on Romans 9-11 before continuing with this article.  The discussion below assumes insight into these very controversial chapters.

If we turn to Romans 9 and 11 to really understand what God did to Israel, we find the foundational statement in Romans 9:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (9:6-7)

As already stated, the unspoken background to this statement is the fact that the Jews, as a whole, rejected Christ.  This gives rise to the question, if God gave all these “oracles” to the Jews (3:2; 9:4-5) and “promises … to the fathers” (15:8, compare 4:13), but most of Israel rejected God’s Son, with the consequence that they are eternally lost (9:1-3; 10:1; 11:14), does that mean that God has become unfaithful to His Word?  Have His promises come to nought?  What happened to all the promises God made to Abraham and to Israel?  In response to these questions we read that “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (9:6).  In other words, the fact of their rejection of the gospel of Christ does not mean that God has failed or will fail to keep the promises He made.  God’s promises to Israel still stand!

9:6-7 justifies this statement by saying, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants”.  Notice the “Israel”, which is equivalent to “children”.  God’s word has not failed because not all Jews are “children” or “Israel”.  This concept is confirmed by the examples in the subsequent verses used to explain this principle, namely the examples of Isaac and Jacob (9:8-16).  These examples show how God selected people from the line of Abraham to be “children” and “Israel”.  It is very important to understand the implication of this justification.  The point is that the promises that God gave to Israel and to Abraham really were only made to a subset of Israel, namely the Israelites that are “children” and “Israel”.  It is for this reason that “the word of God has (not) failed” (9:6), in spite of the fact that most of Israel rejects Christ.  In other words, God’s promises always were only for the true “children” and “Israel”, and His promises remain valid for the true “children” and “Israel”.

The parallel statement to 9:6-7 in Romans 11 confirms these conclusions:

God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (11:2) because “there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (11:5).  “What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened” (11:7).

Again the unspoken background to this statement is the fact that the Jews, as a whole, rejected Christ.  This gives rise to the question whether God rejected “His people”.  In response to this question we read that “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (9:2).  Similar to the concept of the true “children” and “Israel” in Romans 9, “His people” is explained by 11:5 as “a remnant” from Israel.  This disputed by many Bible teachers, but this principle is repeated several times over:

In 9:6-7 we have the principle that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (9:6-7).

This is followed by the examples of Isaac and Jacob to show how God chose people out of the descendants of Abraham.

In 11:1 Paul uses himself as an example of the “His people” of 11:1, and Paul does not represent all Jews.  He is an example of the Christian Jews.

The “whom He foreknew”, with which the “His people” is qualified in 11:2, indicates people that God had known unto salvation even before they were born, and this is not the entire Jewish nation.

11:2-4 uses the example of the 7000 in Elijah’s time to explain the concept of “His people whom He foreknew”.

11:5 explicitly applies this example of Elijah’s 7000 to “the present time”, saying that a “remnant” that has been chosen.  This therefore is the “His people whom He foreknew”.

11:7 says that the chosen obtained what Israel sought, and the rest were hardened.

11:16-25 compares Israel to an olive tree.  The root represents the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God (11:29).  The hardened rest (11:7) are represented by branches that have been broken off.  The remnant of Israel (11:5) is the Jewish branches that remain in the tree, still attached to the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God (11:29).

Over and over we therefore find in these chapters the idea that God did not reject His people because a remnant remains.  God selected a remnant out of the Jewish nation, and that explains why “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (9:6) and “God has not rejected His people” (11:1), in spite of the fact that literal Israel, as a whole, rejected Christ.

This starts to say what God did to Israel.  It says that the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God (11:29) still stand, but only for the true remnant, while the parable of the olive tree tells us that the Gentiles have now also been attached to the irrevocable gifts and the calling of God.

But these verses go further.  Romans 9 uses the example of Pharaoh (9:17) to say that “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18).  Romans 11 applies this principle to Israel by saying that “the rest (of Israel) were hardened” (11:7).  This means that God deliberately hardened Israel against Christ.  In other words, it was God’s intention that Israel would not accept Christ.  “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear” (11:8), in order that “by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles” (11:11).  Romans 9 is often understood as dealing with sovereign election, but actually is an explanation of the causes and consequences of Israel’s rejection of Christ.  God did not only respond to Israel’s unbelief.  He was the cause of their unbelief.  He actually hardened Israel to prevent them from accepting Christ.  He could have allowed Israel to corporately accept Christ as king, in spite of the fact that “this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me” (Mat 15:8), but God deliberately hardened Israel against Christ.

This explains why the two categories of questions above arose:

The first category is, if “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18), “why does He still find fault? For who resists His will” (9:19)?  In other words, if it was God’s decision to harden Israel, why does He keep them accountable for their sin?  For an answer on this question, please refer to the article on election in Romans 9-11.

The second category asks whether “the word of God … failed” (9:6), and whether God “rejected His people” (11:1).

CONCLUSION

Both Romans 3 and Romans 9-11 start off with a reference to the advantages of Jews (3:1-2; 9:4-5), both focus on the sin of the Jews, both state that this sin had good consequences, both question whether God acted appropriately, and both confirm that God did right.  Based on these parallels, it is proposed that Romans 3:1-8 deals with the same topic as Romans 9 and 11.  3:1-8 can therefore be interpreted by means of Romans 9 and 11, as an explanation of the causes and consequences of Israel’s rejection of Christ.

To: Romans Table of Contents

Romans 2 – Verse by Verse

2:1 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. 2:2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.  2:3 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?

The last part of Romans 1 describes and explains the behavior of the idol-worshipers (1:23, 25), referring to them as “they” (1:32).  Now 2:1 switches to ”you”.  Paul has therefore now shifted his focus to his readers.

More specifically, he now focusses on those readers that do two things.  They pass judgment (2:1), but “practice the same things” (2:1-3).  Since 2:1 follow immediately after the description of the idol-worshipers, they judge the idol worshipers, yet do the same things as the idol-worshipers.  But somehow they believe that they will escape God’s judgment.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

It cannot be the church in Rome in general, because Paul wrote of this church: “your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8), while he describes the people who judge as stubborn and unrepentant (2:5).

For two reasons they seem to know God’s law.  Firstly, the fact that they judge the idol-worshipers implies that they know God’s law.  Secondly, the word “therefore”, with which 2:1 starts, means that these people that judge “have no excuse” (2:1) because of what is said in the previous verse, and the previous verse refers to people that “know the ordinance of God”:

They know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but … (1:32).

If they know God’s law, they are either Jews or church-people

Later in the same chapter Paul explicitly refers to Jews, similarly describing them as judging others, but doing the same things:

if you bear the name “Jew” … are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind … a corrector of the foolish … you … who teach another, do you not teach yourself? … You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?  You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? (2:17-24).

This is a further indication that these people that judge other are Jews.

For these reasons it is proposed that Paul is now addressing a tendency found amongst Jews—also amongst Jewish Christians—to judge sin in other people, while they do the same things.

To explain: The Lord gave the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) to the disciples during Pentecost (Acts 2:1) because many devout Jews from all nations were gathered in Jerusalem at that time (Acts 2:5).  In other words, the Lord intended the gospel to go to the Jews first, even to the Jews that were dispersed amongst the nations, such as the Jews in Rome.  On Pentecost the disciples miraculously received the ability to speak the many different languages of these Jews (Acts 2:6).  On that day 3000 Jews were converted to Christ by the preaching of the disciples (Acts 2:41).  They met every day in the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12), and every day the Lord added more to their number (Acts 2:27).  In the next years, through preaching (Acts 3:12) and many miracles (Acts 3:8; 5:12, 15, 19), multitudes of men and women were constantly added to their number (Acts 5:14).  The point to note is that the church at first consisted only of Jews.  Pentecost and that first exponential church growth were limited to Jerusalem and Jews only.  Much of their activities were at the temple (Acts 5:20, 42), where Gentiles were not even allowed.  These thousands of believers were all Jews (Acts 6:7).

When the first Gentiles received the Holy Spirit (a few years later) the Jews were very surprised (Acts 10:45).  In the subsequent decades, when Paul worked, the most of the church and the leadership of the church still consisted of converted Jews (Acts 21:20; Galatians 2).

Consequently the church existed, to a large extent, within the Jewish culture and sphere of influence.  These converted Jews naturally retained much of the Jewish mind-set.  They did not see Christianity as a new religion.  They thought of Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah.  They viewed themselves as the faithful Jews.  In their view all Jews that do not accept Christ were unfaithful to the true Jewish religion.  Therefore the church in the beginning continued all Jewish practices, “traditions” and teachings. The early church inherited much of its teachings from Judaism.  In fact the church, in its beginning, was seen by many Christians as a sect of Judaism (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22).   It was decades before Christians realized that the ceremonies and circumcision and sacrifices are now no longer required.

In particular, the church at first retained the Jewish view that one is justified by the works of the Law.  Judaism relied on the Law (2:17) to “be justified in His sight”.  The existence of this view in the early church is confirmed by the fact that one of the major messages from the letter to the Romans is that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (3:20, 28).  Since Paul had to spend so much time countering this error, it must have been a pervasive view in the early church.  There even was a major church council meeting (Acts 15) to discuss the claim that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  This indicates that many Christian Jews believed that converted Gentiles, to be saved, must be circumcised and consequently take part in the ceremonies and sacrifices; i.e. justification by the works of the Law.

The view that one is justified by the works of the Law resulted in the Jews relying upon the Law (2:17) for a right standing before God.  They believed that they would escape the judgment (2:3).  They believed that one finds forgiveness for sins by the mechanical process of hearing the Law read (2:13) every Sabbath and by an outward compliance (2:28) with the Law, with all its ceremonies and sacrifices.  Like the Pharisee that “was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12), the Jews were not aware of their guilt, in spite of the fact that their prophets taught that their “righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa 64:6).  The belief that the Law justifies resulted in Jews viewing themselves as elected from the nations of the world as God’s special people to receive the promises made to Abraham, namely to inherit the world (Rom 4:13).

The view that the Law justifies also caused the Jews to believe that all other people, to whom the Law was not given, remain guilty and under God’s judgment, to suffer His wrath.  They therefore believed that to judge such people is consistent with the will of God.  As we see in gospels, at the time of Christ, Jews refused even to speak with Gentiles.  Gentiles were considered to be unclean.  Even some Christian Jews refused to associate with Gentile believers (Gal. 2:12).

In summary, the belief that they are justified by the works of the Law caused Jews to believe that they would escape the judgment, but at the same time that it is right to judge other people for doing the same things they do – exactly the behavior that 2:1-3 warns against.

This is the culture in which the converted Jews grew up in, and logically many of them retained that mind-set.  It is therefore proposed that Paul is now addressing this error, particularly amongst the Jewish Christians.

WHY DOES A PERSON CONDEMN HIMSELF

WHEN HE JUDGES IDOL-WORSHIPERS (2:1)?

A consistent theme in Romans 2 is that people are judged by their deeds (2:2, 5-8, 9, 13-16, 27).  A person therefore condemns himself when he judges sinning idol-worshipers, and does the same things.

And the Jews were sinners.  The Old Testament prophets, Jesus and Stephan confirm the view that the Jews are sinners

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning …  (John 8:44)

Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become (Acts 7:52)

What is Paul’s main concern,
that they judge or that they sin?

These Christians do two things: they judge others and they sin.  Which of these is Paul’s main concern?

If Paul is saying that they sin because all people sin, then sin would not be the big issue here.  Then Paul’s main concern would be that Christians judge other people.  Elsewhere in the letter to the Romans he does argue that all people sin (3:9; 3:23; 5:12; Gal 3:22).  The implication of that argument is that, to be justified by the law, you have to keep the law perfectly, which nobody can do.  Therefore nobody will be saved by the works of the law.

But Romans 2 does not argue that all people sin.  According to Romans 2 only some people sin, for instance:

Those who by perseverance in doing good …” will receive “eternal life” (2:7)

“Those who … obey unrighteousness” will receive “wrath and indignation” (2:8).

“The doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).

The emphasis in Romans 3 that all people sin may seem to contradict the implication in Romans 2 that only some people sin.  It is important to understand the difference.  Romans 3 argues against justification by the works of the Law, and therefore argues that nobody is perfect, therefore nobody is justified by the works of the Law.  In contrast Romans 2 explains who will be justified, and justification does not require perfection.  “Those who by perseverance in doing good …”, who will receive “eternal life” (2:7), are not perfect.  Please refer to Romans 7 for an explanation.

Since Romans 2 implies that only some people sin, Paul’s main concern in the current verses is therefore that Christians both sin and judge.  They sin, but instead of crawling in the dust to God, they judge other people for doing the same things they do.  This interpretation is supported by verse 3, which says that these Christians “pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same”.

Paul loves them.

Why does Paul so abruptly switch from the idol-worshipers (Romans 1) to the people in the church that judge others while they do the same things?  Enemy number one in Paul’s writings is always sin.  The sins of these Christian Jews may be superficially different from the idol-worshipers.  They do not worship idols and they do not sin openly because they live in a community that displays a high regard for God’s laws.  But they sin secretly, in their minds, while they remain stubborn and unrepentant (2:5) because they believe that one is justified by the works of the Law.  This is very dangerous because a person with that view would not understand that he himself is at risk of being condemned by God and would not cry to God for forgiveness.

Paul switches to such people because he cares for them deeply and wants to warn them of their severe danger.  They would agree whole-heartedly with His assessment of the idol-worshipers in Romans 1.  If Paul would leave them with that comfortable thought, he would be doing them no favour.

 

2:4 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? 2:5 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,

These two verses belong together because both describe what is now actually happening; in the time before the judgment.  God, through His Holy Spirit, in kindness, tolerance and patience, urges people to repent, but each time that somebody resists the Holy Spirit, the wrath, that that person will experience in the End-time Judgment, increases.

Romans 1 explains God’s wrath (1:18) on the idol-worshiping Gentiles as that “God gave them over” (1:24, 26 and 28) to the lusts of their hearts.  This means that God withdrew His protecting restraint from them so that they would do whatever they want, to their own destruction.  But the implication is also means that God protects other people by keeping them from giving themselves over to a life of sin.  When Romans 2 maintains that “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (2:4), it also points to God’s invisible keeping power in our daily existence.  The Spirit of God is continually at work in us to “convict … concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

The more that people refuse to repent, in spite of God’s efforts to bring them to Him, the more they store up wrath for themselves for the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (2:5).  Different people will therefore have different levels of wrath waiting for them.  People will be judged relative to their privileges:

Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. “Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. (Mat. 11:21-22)

But this should not be understood that God is angry with them, or that He is angrier with some than with others.  God loves them

Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? (Ezek. 18:23)

I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live. (Ezek. 18:32)

People will experience wrath, but not because God is angry with them.  They will experience wrath because God has to do what is best in the interest of the universe.  The judgment is a cleaning process.  God cleans His universe through the judgment process.  Some people are so fused with sin that they will also be eliminated when God eliminates sin. (See below.)

Since God is kind, tolerant and patient (2:4), He will do everything possible before He gives a person over.  He will not give a person over if there any possibility that the person would repent.


 

2:6 who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: 2:7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 2:8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

ETERNAL DEATH

A few verses earlier “death” was declared (1:32) to be “the judgment of God” (2:3) on “those who practice” (1:32) the evils listed in 1:29-31.  Now “eternal life” (2:7) is promised for those who persevere “in doing good” (2:7).  Paul often and consistently promises eternal life to God’s people (2:7; 5:21; 6:22; 8:13).  He never promises eternal life to sinners, but rather death:

  • those who practice such things are worthy of death (Rom. 1:32)
  • … all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law (2:12)
  • … sin reigned in death (Rom. 5:21)
  • … sin resulting in death (Rom. 6:16)
  • … the outcome of those things is death (Rom. 6:21)
  • … the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)
  • … the sinful passions … bear fruit for death (7:5)
  • The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption (Gal. 6:8).
  • … If you are living according to the flesh, you must die (Rom. 8:13).
  • … the mind set on the flesh is death (Rom. 8:6)

A separate article is available that deals with the life and death promises in all of Paul’s letters.  Consistent with Paul’s use, this series of articles on Paul’s writings also always refers to death as God’s judgment on evildoers.

END-TIME JUDGMENT DAY

These verses (2:5-8) elaborate on the statement in verse 2 that “the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things”, and explains that as referring to the End-Time Day of Judgment (2:5).  Romans 1 describes the “wrath of God” (1:18) in this life as God giving the idol-worshipers “over in the lusts of their hearts” (1:24, 26, 28).  By referring to “death” as the penalty of sin (1:32), the last verse of Romans 1 shifts the focus to the end-time.  2:1-5 continues this focus on the end-time wrath (2:8).

DAY OF REVELATION

It will be “the day of revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5).  Verse 16 describes it as “the day” on which “God will judge the secrets of men” (2:16).  Not only will be revealed what God’s decisions are, but also why He decided in that way.  People judge superficially, but that the end-time judgment will reveal what really is inside people.

Notice the contrast between “the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience” (2:4) and the “stubbornness and unrepentant heart” (2:5) of the people “who passes judgment” (2:1). “The riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience” will also be revealed on the end-time judgment day. It will be shown that God has revealed “His invisible attributes” (1:20) to them and has done everything possible to convince them of His love for them, but that they have refused to put their faith in Him.

The people “who passes judgment” on the idol-worshipers “suppose” (2:3) that they are right with God and therefore that they “will escape the judgment of God” (2:3).  However, the end-time “judgment of God” will prove them wrong.  They “are storing up wrath” (2:5) for that day.

God knows everything. His judgments are infinitely complex, but He wants us to trust Him. As discussed in Romans 1, he wants us to love and serve Him in complete freedom. For that reason He wants us to understand His judgments. That is why it will be “the day of … revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5).

THE TWO GROUPS

On judgment day God will render to (GNB reward) each person according to his deeds.  People will be separated into two groups according to their deeds:

For those who keep the Law by perseverance in doing good, it will be a day of glory.  They will receive immortality and eternal life.

For those who “obey unrighteousness” (2:6) it will be a day of wrath.  This will include the stubborn and unrepentant Christians that judge others for the things they do themselves (2:5).

Paul’s explanation of the judgment as based on the deeds of people is consistent with Christ’s explanation of the judgment recorded in Matthew 25.  He said that “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another” (Mat 25:32).  The “righteous” group (v37) is those that feed the hungry and thirsty, invite in the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick and those in prison (v35-40).  They will “inherit the kingdom prepared … from the foundation of the world” (v34) and “eternal life” (v46).  The “accursed ones” (v41) are the people that did not do this (v41-45).  They will go into the “eternal punishment” of “the eternal fire“ (v41).

Can you imagine you would feel if you and your loved ones are in different groups?

SUMMARY OF 2:1-8

Verses 1 to 8 form the first main section of Romans 2.

Romans 1 explains that God gives people over to their lusts if they reject His self-revelation by serving idols (1:19-24).  Romans 2:1-8 turns the spotlight to the readers of the letter, warning them that they have no excuse if they pass judgment on the idol-worshipers of Romans 1, while they do the same things.  In fact, by judging others for doing the same things they do, they condemn themselves, for God will judge people that do such things.

Paul particularly has the large number of Jewish Christians in mind when he gives this warning.  Many Jewish Christians still continued with the Jewish ceremonies and sacrifices and retained the Jewish view that one is justified thereby (by the works of the Law).  This view caused Jews to believe that they would escape the judgment (2:3).  They viewed themselves as elected from the nations of the world to receive the promises made to Abraham, namely to inherit the world (Rom 4:13).  Other people were regarded under God’s judgment. Therefore, to judge such people is consistent with the will of God.  This is the mind-set with which the converted Jews grew up, and Paul is now addressing this dangerous error amongst the Jewish Christians.

The primary purpose of 2:1-8 is to warn against judging other people for doing the things you do yourself.  To support this warning Paul explains that, in the End-Time Judgment, God will judge all people in the same way, namely by their deeds.  Jews will not receive beneficial treatment.  Their ceremonies and sacrifices will not save them.  If they do the same things as the idol-worshipers they will also receive “wrath and indignation” (2:8).

In further support of his primary message, Paul explains that God, in kindness, tolerance and patience, urges people to repent, but each time that the Holy Spirit is resisted, the wrath that the person will experience in the End-time Judgment, increases.

Judgment Day will be a day of revelation.  Not only will be revealed what God decided, but also the reasons for those decisions.  His kindness, tolerance and patience will also be revealed.  It will be shown that God has done everything possible to convince them of His love for them, but that they have refused to put their faith in Him.

 

2:9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 2:10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 2:11 For there is no partiality with God. 2:12 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; 2:13 It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

The statement that “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13) continues the thought that “God … will render to each person according to his deeds”.  Notice the contrast between “does evil” (2:9) and “does good” (2:10). Romans 2 does not directly mention justification by faith.  Now is added that all will be judged by the Law.  In other words, the deeds will be measured against the Law.

Since 2:9-10 contrast Jews and Gentiles, the people that are “without the Law” (2:12) are the Gentiles.  This is confirmed by 2:14 that refers to “Gentiles who do not have the Law”.  “Gentiles” refer to all people other than Jews.  It also follows that the people that are “under the Law” (2:12) are the Jews.  They are “the hearers of the Law” (2:13).  In those days very few people owned copies of the Scriptures.  People had to go to the synagogues to hear the Law being read.

The word “justified” (2:13) means to be in a right standing before God

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1)

CONTINUES TO WARN JEWS

The mind-set of judging Gentiles for things they do themselves was brought from Judaism into the church by the large number of Christian Jews.  Romans 2:1-8 warns these Jewish Christians against this mind-set.  They are warned that they will not receive preferential treatment in the judgment, but that they too will receive “wrath and indignation” (2:6) “in the day of wrath” (2:5).

The current verses for the first time in Romans 2 explicitly mention Jews (2:9-10), and contrast them to Greeks (Gentiles).  The statements that “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13) and that “there is no partiality with God” implies that the Jews assumed that they would “escape the judgment of God” (2:3) through the external rituals and practices of their religion.  They assumed that God would judge them differently.  Now they are warned that all people will be judged on the same basis.  All their rituals and ceremonies and teachings count for nothing.  The only thing that matters is whether they are “doers of the Law” (2:13).  The current verses therefore actually continue the warning to Christian Jews in 2:1-8, against their mind-set of criticizing other people, while they do the same things.

NOT RELEVANT TODAY

The main point in the current verses is that “There is no partiality with God” (2:11).  This is also reflected in the phrase “Jew first and also … the Greek”, that appears twice in these verses.  It means that God will judge Jews and non-Jews in the same way.  The equality of Jew and Gentile is arguably the main message in the letter to the Romans.  Most teachers argue that justification by faith is the main point in Romans, but it is proposed here that that truth is only explained to explain the equality of Jew and Gentile.

However, the equality of Jew and Gentile is largely irrelevant to us today, living 2000 years later, because the context has changed completely:

The Jews thought of themselves as God’s special people.  They relied on the law (2:17) and thought that the mere teaching of the Law in their hearing made them “just before God” (2:13).

The church at the time was dominated by converted Jews, so much so that outsiders viewed the church as a sect of Israel.  They called it “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5, 14; 28:22).  The church therefore inherited from Judaism the view that the God will deal with them differently.

In this context Paul brought the message that all are equal before God, as far as the judgment is concerned.

Today this message is generally accepted in the church today.  Some still hold the view that God has a special end-time role and a separate future for ethnic Israel, but it is generally accepted that, in the End-Time Judgment Day, God will judge all people in the same way.  It is for that reason that this important message from the letter to the Romans is somewhat irrelevant today.

However, the message remains relevant to us because people always tend to put their trust in external things.  A new movement would emphasize true repentance of the heart, but very soon that movement will shift the focus to externals, creating a list of do’s and don’ts.  The purpose of these rules is to protect the individual from sin.  We could, for instance, make the rule that one should not watch television.  The Jews had thousands such rules.  But the problem is that these external rules and regulations very quickly become the focus of the religion.  We must therefore continually guard against out natural inclination of putting our trust in externals.

The Jewish religion became dominated by such external rules and regulations.  So was the Papacy.  For Luther, because he had to combat the very powerful Papacy, Paul’s letters, particularly the letter to the Galatians, which aggressively combats external rules and regulations, was the heart of the theology.

This remains relevant to us.  We, as church-people, should not think that our external rules and regulations will save us.  We will not be judged by the rules we create for ourselves.  We will be judged by God’s Law, and as redefined by Christ, God’s Law cuts through the inner being (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-29, 43-44, etc.).  “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil” (2:9) – also for church people.


 

2:14 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, 2:15 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, 2:16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Verses 14 to 16 are one long sentence, and deal exclusively with Gentiles.  Therefore, when verse 16 indicates that “God will judge the secrets of men”, this applies firstly to Gentiles.  But this principle also applies to all people.

The reference to “secrets” implies that these secrets will be revealed.  As stated by 2:5, this will be “the day of … revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5).  On that day the secrets of men and the judgment of God will be revealed.  The purpose of the end time Judgment Day is to clean the universe from the curse of sin.  For this purpose everything must be revealed.

On that day evil-doers will experience “wrath”, “indignation”, “tribulation and distress” (2:8-9).  Their realization of how much they have lost, and the realization that it is all their own fault, will be extremely traumatic.  People will stand before the judgment throne of the One that loves all, and they will understand that they deserve death; that God availed them each and every opportunity.  They will feel the pain they caused other people, without the ability to defend themselves with excuses.  They will see their own secrets with absolute clarity.

ARE THESE GENTILES JUSTIFIED?

Some preach that these heathens (Gentiles) that “do instinctively the things of the Law” and thereby “show the work of the Law written in their hearts” are notjustified (2:13).  They argue that these people “show the work of the Law written in their hearts” by occasional good deeds, but God’s standard is perfection, and since they are not perfect, they are not justified.  It is further argues that the only way that people can receive justification as a gift is through the gospel, which is about Christ (1:3) and His sacrifice, and since these heathens do not have the gospel, they cannot be “justified” as a gift.

But the text seems to clearly say that these heathens are justified:

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 (2:13-14)

The word “for” with which 2:14 starts link this verse to the previous verses, and the principal thought in 2:9-13 is that God will judge Jews and non-Jews in the same way, namely that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).  The statement in verse 14 that some Gentiles “do … the things of the Law” means that they are “doers of the Law”, and therefore justified.

It is proposed that the view that these Gentiles are not justified is based on a confusion of concepts.  “Faith” and “deeds” and “grace” and “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:24) all play a role in the redemption process, but we should keep these concepts apart;

Faith” is what people must have to be ”saved from the wrath” (5:9).

Deeds” is the evidence of faith.  Faith results in “perseverance in doing good” (2:7).  Faith makes people “doers of the Law” (2:13).  Faith and deeds cannot be separated.  “Faith without works is useless” (James 2:20).

But faith does not make people perfect.  “All have sinned” (3:23).  Therefore nobody deserves to be saved.  Therefore God “justifies the ungodly” (4:5) those that have faith “as a gift by His grace” (3:24).

The redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:24) refers to what Christ did through His life (5:10), death (5:6-9, 18-19; 7:4) and resurrection (4:25) that made it possible for God to “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:25).  In other words, the death of Christ made it possible for God to justify “the ungodly” (4:5) “as a gift by His grace” (3:24).  For that reasons Paul states that everything we receive, including grace, apostleship, justification as a gift by faith, peace with God, reconciliation to God, righteousness to eternal life and salvation from the wrath, are all receivedthrough the obedience of the One (5:19) (1:4-5; 3:24, 5:1, 2,  9-10, 15-19, 21) or “in Christ Jesus” (6:11; 3:24).

It is proposed that the mistake people make is to fuse together “grace” and “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.  They confuse grace with the vehicle of that grace.  They then conclude that one must believe in Christ to be saved.  But, to receive the gift of justification, man does not have to understand how God gives people that gift.  As we read in the current verses, one does not even have to know the name of Christ.  How God justifies “the ungodly” is His business.  The New Testament teaches that justification is only possible “through” or “in” Christ Jesus, but even with all the light we have from the Bible, we should not presume that we understand how that exactly works.  In the future ages we will continue to learn more about God and His ways.

What we need to understand is that “all have sinned” (3:23) and are “justified as a gift by His grace” (3:24); “the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ” (5:15).

Perhaps it is the common concept of imputed righteousness that leads people to confuse the fact that God justifies people “as a gift” with the fact that people are redeemed “in Christ Jesus”.  By imputed righteousness is meant that Christ’s righteousness is attributed to Christians.  However, we do not find this concept explicitly in the Bible.  “Imputed” is a word that is used in the New Testament a few times in the KJV to explains that Abraham’s faith was “imputed” to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:11; 4:22-24; James 2:23), but the NASB replaces this famous word with “credited”.  Furthermore, nowhere in the Bible (even the KJV) does it say that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to sinners.  This concept was developed by the reformers to combat Roman works-righteousness.  Perhaps it is time to drop this old concept.  It is a man-made formula.  It is simply the way in which people explain to themselves the fact that Christ had to die to save sinners.  It may be better to say it exactly as Paul says it, namely that sinners are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:24).  We should not confuse grace with the means by which God grants that grace.

The profound truth of 2:14-16 is therefore that God also give to people, that have not heard about God or His Word, the gift of justification.  The astounding truth from 2:14-16 is that one does not need to Bible to be saved.

But how is it possible that people “who do not have the Law” (2:14) can become “doers of the Law” if they never heard the Law and do not have the Law written down?  The current verses explain that Greeks can be “doers of the Law” if “the Law (is) written in their hearts” (2:15).  This implies that God writes His Law on the hearts of people.  We already saw in Romans 1 that:

that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made (1:19-20)

God has written the message of His love on the flowers of the field, and the message of His power in the miracle of creation.  In the vastness of the universe we see His greatness.  We do not need the Bible to know about God.  The Bible gives us more detail and clarity, but the creation is sufficient.  The Spirit of God is continually at work in us to “convict … concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).  This is not limited to people that have access to the Bible, because God writes His laws on the hearts of people that do not have His Word.

On Judgment Day God will reveal the secrets of men’s hearts, and many people from other religions, and even people that never heard about Christ, will be saved because they have the “Law written in their hearts”.  Even people that now hate the name of Christ can have the “Law written in their hearts”.  Once they learn who Christ really is, they will love Him.  God does not judge on externals.  He judges the fundamentals of the heart.  He understands all influences.  He seeks for love in the hearts of His intelligent creatures, because love complies with the Law.  It is on this basis that He could stop the killer, whose letters we are now studying, on his way to Damascus: He saw love in Saul’s heart.

WHAT LAW?

To explain Paul’s writings teachers differentiate between moral and ceremonial and other laws.  But Paul never explicitly made that distinction himself.  In the current verses it is said that Gentiles “show the work of the Law written in their hearts” (2:15).  This logically refers to the moral laws, because Gentiles could not have the ceremonial laws written on their heart.  However, perhaps that distinction is not valid, because the ceremonial laws have moral significance:

For instance, Abraham received circumcision as a sign of justification by faith (4:11).

And according to Hebrews the temple services (9:1), the sanctuary (9:1) the priests (9:6) and even the Law (10:1) were not reality.  These things were all “a symbol for the present time” (9:9) and “a shadow of the good things to come” (10:1).  The symbolized “Christ … as a high priest of the good things to come” (9:11),  “through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands” (9:11).

The Gentiles, not having the Law, cannot have the outward form of the ceremonies written on their hearts, but they can have the inherent meaning of the ceremonies written on their hearts, and this is what counts.

SUMMARY OF 2:9-16

These verses, for the first time in Romans 2, refer to Jews explicitly, contrasting them to “Greeks”.  “Greeks” represent all people other than Jews.

Jews believed that they will escape the judgment through the works of the Law.    They believed that they are justified by their rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies.  But 2:9-13 warns Jews against their belief that they will enjoy beneficial treatment in the judgment.  God will judge all peoples from all races in the same way, namely by their deeds.  Irrespective of whether you are a Jew or a Gentile or wealthy or poor or learned or a high ranking church official, or whatever else, God will judge you by your deeds.  In the End-Time Judgment, God will disclose the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.  All “who have sinned” will “perish”, but “the doers of the Law will be justified”.

People that have never been taught His laws can also be “doers of the Law because God writes His Law on the hearts of people.  When they do wrong, their thoughts accuse them.  When they do good, their thoughts defend them.  Thereby they become “a law to themselves” (2:14).


 

2:17 But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 2:18 and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 2:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 2:20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,

This is how Jews viewed themselves.  They “boast in God” (2:17) because they believe God is on their side, and against the rest of the world.

They “rely upon the Law” (2:17) because they viewed the law as their means of justification (10:4).  To warn them of this error, a major message of this letter is that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (3:20).

Verses 1-8 deal implicitly with Jews, particularly Christian Jews.  Verses 9-16 deal explicitly with Jews.  Verse 17 heightens the tension by speaking directly to Jews.  But through-out Romans 2 the focus remains in Jews.

This focus on Jews was very relevant in Paul’s day because converted Jews dominated the church and the Jewish traditions flowed strongly in the veins of the church.  But in our day the Jew/Gentile issue is perhaps irrelevant. However, the argument that Paul uses to show that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God, namely that external things will not benefit one in the judgment, is very relevant in our day.

2:21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 2:22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 2:23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 2:24 For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written.

The preceding verses (2:14-16) explain how it is possible for Gentiles, that do not have the law, to be “doers of the Law” (2:13), and therefore to be “just before God” (2:13).  The current verses accuse Jews—who believe they are justified by the Law—of being sinners.  Consequently, as stated earlier, the Jew “who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law” (2:12).  The purpose remains to warn Jews they are wrong when they assume that they are justified by the Law, and therefore will escape judgment.  Paul is helping Jews to understand their need of God’s grace.


 

 

2:25 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. 2:26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 2:27 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?

These verses contrast keeping the law with circumcision.  In these 3 verses keeping or transgressing the law is mentioned 5 times, while circumcision or “uncircumcision” is mentioned 7 times.  These verses also contrast circumcised people with people that are “uncircumcised”.  These contrasts are combined to contrast:

  • The circumcised person that is “a transgressor of the Law” (2:25, 27)
  • The uncircumcised person that “keeps the requirements of the Law” (2:26, 27)

The circumcised person generally is a Jew, and the uncircumcised person generally is a Gentile.  These verses therefore continue the contrast of Jew and Gentile in the previous verses.

For the Jews circumcision was very important.  But circumcision was only a “sign” and a “seal of the righteousness of the faith” (4:11).  What really matters is whether one has faith which causes one to keep the Law, as confirmed by 1Corinthians 7:19:

Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. (See also Gal. 5:6 – but faith working through love)

These verses in substance repeat what was said above, namely that somebody who has been taught God’s Law, but who also is a transgressor of the law, is in God’s eyes no better than a heathen that does not have and does not care for His law.  Conversely, the person that has no knowledge of God’s law, but that keeps the Law, is a child of God.  “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).


 

2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 2:29 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.

Two things are (re)defined in these verses, namely “Jew” and “circumcision”.  Verse 28 negatively states what a real Jew and the real circumcision is not.  Verse 29 positively states what a real Jew and the real circumcision is.  Verse 28 refers to externals and states that externals do not define a real Jew and the real circumcision.  A Jew is not a real Jew only because he is circumcised.  Verse 29 refers to what goes on in the heart.  The real Jew is one whose heart has been circumcised.

The heart in the Bible is not just the organ that pumps blood through the veins.  The heart is what one loves with (5:5) and believes with (10:9).  The person that judges others is said to have an “unrepentant heart” (2:5), while the Gentiles in 2:15 have the Law written on their hearts (2:15).

The requirement that the heart must be circumcised is a familiar concept in the Bible, for instance:

So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.  (Deut. 10:16-19)

… remove the foreskins of your heart (Jer. 4:4)

… I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised 26 … for … the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.” (Jer. 9:25)

… in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11; See also Ezek. 44:9; Acts 7:51)

ARE NON-JEWS ALSO JEWS?

One question is whether 2:28-29 includes non-Jews under the definition of a Jew.  The alternative is that these verses simply categorize Jews into two groups; true Jews and false Jews.

This question is important for the controversy in the church whether God still has a special purpose and future for ethnic Israel.  If non-Jews are included in the definition for a real Jew then the implication would be that ethnic Israel no longer has a purpose and future separate from the church.

It is proposed here that 2:28-29 should be interpreted as including non-Jews under the definition of a real Jew, for the following reasons:

1. The preceding verses are not discussing only Jews, but continually contrast Jews and Gentiles.

2. The preceding three verses state that uncircumcised people will “be regarded ascircumcised (2:26),

The letter to the Philippians also redefines circumcision, and therefore redefines the name “Jew” to include non-Jews.  It describes “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” (1:1) “who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” as “the true circumcision” (3:2-3).  The people “who … put … confidence in the flesh” are “”the false circumcision”.

Circumcision was given to Abraham and to his descendants, but the New Testament teaches that Gentiles are children of Abraham, and “heirs according to promise”, which is to inherit the world (Rom 4:13), if they belong to Christ (Gal. 3:29).

The current verses therefore support the view that ethnic Israel no longer has a separate purpose and future in God’s plan.

SUMMARY OF 2:25-29

For Jews circumcision was the sign that they are God’s people and that they will inherit the promised blessings.  But, in itself, circumcision has no value.  If a Jew is a transgressor of the Law, his circumcision has become meaningless.  He will not share in the promised blessings.

In contrast, a person that does not have all those benefits, but still keeps God’s Law through the power of the Holy Spirit, is in God’s eyes a faithful Jew, and will share in the promised inheritance.  The facts that he is not circumcised and does not know God’s Laws, is of no significance.  What matters is whether one keeps God’s commandments.

CONCLUSION

The first 8 verses warn people who judge others for doing the things they do themselves.  People that judge others thereby show that they do not realize the extent of their own depravity and wickedness.  They do not realize that they themselves deserve to be condemned by God.  God, in kindness, tolerance and patience, works in people for repentance, but when people stubbornly refuse to repent, mistaken in their belief that they are right with God, they add to the wrath (anger, rage, fury) that they will face in the end time judgment day.  This is a warning to Jews, particularly for Christian Jews, that they are at risk of eternal loss if they continue to “obey unrighteousness”.

Verses 9 to 13 explicitly mention Jews and Gentiles and say that all races will be judged in the same way, namely that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:14).  The implication is that Jews thought that God would judge them differently from Gentiles and that they will “escape the judgment of God” (2:3), while non-Jews will be condemned.

Verses 14 to 23 explain that people that do not have the Law can be “the doers of the Law” because God write His Law on the hearts of people.  These verses also accuse Jews of breaking God’s Laws.  Since “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:14) the implication is that Jews that “obey unrighteousness” are not justified.  These verses therefore continue the contrast between Jews and Gentiles in verses 9 to 13, and elaborate on the statement in 2:11 that “there is no partiality with God”.

Verses 25 to 27, by contrasting “circumcision” and “uncircumcision” continue to contrast Jews and Gentiles, and say that whether one is circumcised or not, does not matter.  What matters is whether one keeps God’s law.

Verses 28 and 29 conclude the chapter by defining the real Jew as a person whose heart has been circumcised, which means that Gentiles can also be real Jews.

The entire Romans 2 is therefore a warning to Jewish Christians.  It warns them that they will not escape God’s judgment.  It warns them that, if they break God’s Law, they will, on Judgment Day, suffer the same humiliation as Gentile sinners; they will not have an advantage when it comes to the judgment.  The entire chapter is about the equality of Jew and Gentile, and since the letter is written to the church, it is about equality of Jew and Gentile in the church.

The background against which this warning must be understood is the Jewish mindset that they are justified by the Law, and that non-Jews stand condemned because they do not have the Law.  This was also the mind-set of many Jewish Christians, and when Paul wrote, church doctrines were still determined by Jews.  It is stated repeatedly in chapters 3 and 4 that “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (3:20).  Although this is not stated explicitly by Romans 2, this is actually also the message of Romans 2.

A major theme in Romans 2 is the judgment; more specifically that people will be judged according to their deeds.  “The judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things” (2:2).  “God will render to each person according to his deeds” (2:5-8).There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil … but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good” (2:9-10).  See also verses 13 to 15 and 27.  This major emphasis of Romans 2, that all people are judged by their deeds, is merely to support the main message, which is that Jews will not receive preferential treatment; all will be judged in the same way.

A further message in Romans 2 is that the deeds of people will be measured against the Law (v13-15, 27).  “It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).  “For when Gentiles … do instinctively the things of the Law … they show the work of the Law written in their hearts” (2:14-15).  “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” (2:27)?  The Law is a synonym for “doing good” (2:7, 10).  Examples of the Law, quoted in this chapter, are from the Ten Commandments, namely stealing (2:21), adultery (2:22) and idol worship (2:22).

Justification by faith is the founding statement for the entire letter:

… I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (1:16-17)

People are justified by faith (3:28), but judged by their deeds.  Is this a contradiction?  No; as argued above, one’s deeds proves one’s faith, or the lack of it.  Therefore, even though Romans 2 does not even once mention faith, but it is still an explanation of justification by faith, because faith and deeds cannot be separated.

To: Romans Table of Contents

 

Romans 1 – Verse by Verse

This post in Word format: Romans 1 verse by verse

1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

1:2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 1:3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 1:4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 1:5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 1:6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;

Promised beforehand – For Paul it was important to explain that his gospel was promised in the Old Testament (3:21).

Concerning His Son – The gospel is about His Son.  Please note that Romans say relatively little about His Son and His sacrifice.  The main focus of Romans is not to explain His Son, but to explain justification by faith.  The link between these two concepts is discussed below.

Son of God – In a sense Jesus had two fathers; David (1:3) and God (1:4).

Obedience of faith – as opposed to the obedience of work;

All the Gentiles – In the previous dispensation God was seen as the God of the Jews, and in their view Gentiles, to be accepted by God, had to become part of Israel by being circumcised.  In the first few decades of the church most of the believers were converted Jews, and they brought with them this concept.  But Paul preached that Gentiles do not have to become part of Israel to become acceptable before God.  In fact, he vehemently opposed this persistent error, for instance in the letter to the Galatians.  He taught that all that is required, for Gentiles, is the “obedience of faith”, which means that they do not have to “live like Jews” (Gal. 2:14).  In those early days, while the church was still dominated by converted Jews, this was the most important controversy in the church (Acts 15:1).

1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 1:10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 1:11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 1:12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.

God, whom I serve in my spirit – This is a key point in chapters 7 and 8, where Paul explains that he (Paul) consists of two parts; his mind and his body.  His body continues to sin (7:15-19), but he is no longer held accountable for the sins of the body (7:17, 20) because in his mind he serves the law of God (7:25; 8:2).  The difference between the saved and the lost is not in their bodies, because both groups of people continue to sin.  The difference between the saved and the lost is in their minds (or spirit):

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit (8:5).

1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.

Under obligation – in terms of his calling (1:1, 5)

Greeks and barbarians – Why does Paul distinguish between Greeks and barbarians?  The reason is that the Romans also spoke Greek.  As the result of the influence of the previous Greek Empire the entire civilized world spoke Greek.  The “barbarians” are the “foolish” people that did not speak Greek and did not share in the sophisticated Greek systems of learning.

1:15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

The power of God for salvation to everyone who believes – This statement must be understood against the background of the controversy in the church in Paul’s day of whether one is saved by works or by faith.  Paul, in fact, caused that controversy by arguing that justification is by faith.  The question then arises what right God has to save people that do not deserve to be saved.  Paul’s answer here is that the gospel gives God that right.  As we have seen above, the gospel is about “His Son” (1:1-3).  In Galatians, where Paul more pertinently defends justification by faith against justification by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16), he similarly explains that “we … receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” because “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law” by becoming “a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13-14).  In other words, the death of Christ gave God the right to save people that do not deserve to be saved.  This will be discussed further in Romans 3:25-26 below.

The Jew first and also to the Greek – Jews have the first right to salvation by faith (3:1-2; 9:1-5), but Greeks, and by implication all other peoples, have an equal right.

In it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith – The NIV translates this as a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.  Luther struggled fiercely with the concept of the “righteousness of God”.  He was taught and he at first believed that “righteousness of God” was something that God had to maintain, and therefore that people had to live up to.  His breakthrough came when he realised that the “righteousness of God” is something which God freely gives to people.  All they have to do is to believe.

1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

This revealed “the wrath of God” is directly linked to the statement in the previous verse that “the righteous man shall live by faith” (1:17):

  • Firstly, it follows immediately after that statement.
  • Secondly, the two verses are connected by the word “for” and
  • Thirdly, note the contrast between the words “righteous” in 1:17 and “unrighteousness” (twice) in 1:18.

This means that the wrath of God, which is revealed against unrighteous men, explains what is meant by “live by faith” (1:17).  This is explained further in the verses that follow.

1:19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 1:20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Here we are given the first part of the reason for God’s wrath.  They are “without excuse” (1:20), which means that God has given to them adequate evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20).  Notice that God is the One that is actively making Himself known: “God made it evident to them” (1:19) through the miracles of creation (1:19-20).

1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

This is the second part of the reason for God’s wrath, namely that they do not respond to God’s revelation of Himself.  In fact, they positively reject Him by worshiping idols.

In Paul’s day idol worship (1:23) was a common indication of rejection of God.  Today it takes different forms, such as worshiping sport or music or film stars, or worshiping one’s own possessions.  One’s idol is whatever has the highest place of admiration in the mind.

1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

While 1:19-23 give the reasons for God’s wrath, the current verses explain what God’s wrath is, namely, as stated three times, that God gave them over (v24, 26, 28) to:

  • the lusts of their hearts” (v24);
  • to degrading passions” (v26), including homosexuality (v26-27) and
  • to a depraved mind” (v28), as further elaborated in verses 28 to 31.

The “wrath of God” is that God give people over to the things they desire (1:24, 26, 28).  Their impure lifestyle, including their homosexuality, is evidence of God’s wrath (1:18).  The horrible things that people commit on this earth today indicate that God already gave them over.

God’s wrath is therefore not limited to ”the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5).  The “wrath of God” is revealed on earth today in the lives of people (1:18).

Notice that the current verses repeat the reasons for God giving them over, as given in verses 19 to 23.

For instance, 1:25-26 reads “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.  For this reason God gave them over …” Consistent with 1:19-20, the “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie” implies that they had the truth.  And as already stated in 1:21-23, they rejected that truth by worshiping “the creature rather than the Creator”.

1:28 reads “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to …”.  This does not mention idol-worship, but it confirms that the people first make a decision to reject God before God gives them over.

1:32 reads “and although they know the ordinance of God … they not only do the same, but …”.  This ties in with the concept in 1:19-20 that God has given to them adequate evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20), and confirms that they cannot claim they did not know.

We therefore discover a three-phase process:

  1. God made His invisible attributes evident to them (1:19-20). “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them”.
  2. Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks” (1:21). They rejected His self-revelation and “did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (v28), as evidenced by their idol worship (1:21-23, 25).
  3. Therefore God gave them over to themselves (1:24-32). He let them do what they want. He let them be.

We should also appreciate how this description of the “wrath of God” (1:18) relates to salvation by faith (1:18).  We should understand that the “wrath of God” (1:18), that is “revealed from heaven against” (1:18) the “unrighteousness” man, and which is three times defined as God giving such people over “in the lusts of their hearts” (1:24), “to degrading passions” (1:26) and “to a depraved mind” (1:28), must be read with the description on the “righteous man” in 1:16-17.  The description of the “wrath of God” on the “unrighteousness” man, by describing the opposite, explains what is meant by “live by faith” and by “salvation to everyone who believes” (1:16).  The following is a rewrite of the text, staying as close as possible to the text, but integrating the descriptions of the two men to show the overall thought:

The gospel is God’s power to save all who believe (1:16), for the gospel reveals a righteousness which God credits to man simply on the basis of faith (1:17, read with 3:22; 4:3-6).  This means that “the righteous man shall live by faith” (1:17).  To explain what living by faith means, consider how the “unrighteousness” (1:18) man reacts:

God made “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature” (1:20) “evident” (1:19) to all, ever “since the creation of the world” (1:20).  This revelation of God must be accepted by faith, because it can never be proven beyond a shadow of doubt.  And then man must live by faith, which means that he must live out that faith.  It means to put your trust in God, and consequently to honour Him and live according to His principles.  Although atheists will disagree, the “unrighteousness” man knows God and His law (1:32).  But the “unrighteousness” man suppresses the knowledge of God and does “not see fit to acknowledge God” (1:28).  He elects not to live according to the adequate evidence which God gave of Himself.  He refuses to honour Him as God or giving Him thanks (1:21).  In other words, he does not live by faith.

Consequently “the wrath of God is revealed … against” (1:18) the “unrighteousness” man.  This “wrath of God” is that God “gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24).  God let them be.  He no longer restrains them.  His Holy Spirit no longer pleads with them.

In contrast, “the righteous man shall live by faith” (1:17).  He accepts the knowledge of God as revealed in the miracles of nature (1:20), submits to the pleading of the Holy Spirit and decides to “live by faith”, which means to live according to that knowledge.

In this way a distinction is made, already in this life, between the righteous and the unrighteous.  This distinction has eternal consequences.  The person that is given up on earth is lost eternally.  But the person that lives by faith is credited with righteousness on the basis of what Christ did.  The gospel is the good news of the salvation made possible by Christ, so that God ”would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (3:25-26).  (God can forgive and still be just on the basis of what Christ did.)  This good news is God’s power to save everyone who believes (1:16).

The three-phase process can therefore be stated somewhat differently:

  1. God gave adequate evidence of His invisible attributes (1:19-20).  Therefore “they knew God” (v21).
  2. But they did not “live by faith”.
  3. Therefore God gave them over to themselves (1:24-32) to their own desires.       (Some people say this is a good description of hell; everybody just doing what they like, without an ounce of restraining power from God.)

This analysis of the text makes us aware of a number of very important principles:

Life on this earth is a test to decide who will inherit eternal life.  God tests people by providing adequate evidence of Himself and by urging them to respond. But if a person persistently (2:4) refuse to respond to that evidence, God gives that person over to himself. His Holy Spirit stops pleading. He allows them to fulfil their desires, resulting in degrading passions (1:24-32). This is a very important and very dangerous principle: If you know what the truth is, but persistently refuse to live according to that truth, at some point God is going to give up and leave you alone to do what you want.

If God gives up on a person, that person is eternally lost. In “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5) they will not receive “eternal life” (2:7), but “wrath and indignation” (2:8). That “day” (2:5) will confirm God’s decision, but the decision is already made while the person is alive.

The fact that God gives up some people means that He protects others from becoming slaves to their desires.  They continue to sin (7:15-19), but God restrains them from giving themselves over to sin. He is the Force for good that is active in our daily existence to keep us from becoming comfortable in a live of sin. He keeps the believers’ consciousness alive. He makes us aware of the sins in our lives and urges us to resist these evil tendencies. As stated in 2:4: “the kindness of God leads you to repentance”.

The statement “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17) means that man is credited with righteousness on the basis of faith and faith alone (1:17; 3:22; 4:3-6).  The entire remainder of the chapter explains this very important statement.  But that explanation focusses not on what people think, but on what they do.  It describes not what the “unrighteousness” man thinks, but how he lives.  In contrast, “the righteous man shall live by faith”.  This statement also focusses not on what the righteous man thinks, but on what he does.  The word “faith” in the statement “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17) is therefore explained not only as what people think, but what they do; how a man lives.  The word “faith” therefore includes one’s deeds.  Faith is not merely s state of mind.  To be real faith it must find expression in a life lived by faith (1:17).  “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Why does God give up on people while they are still alive? Why does He not keep their options open until they die?

“Faith” implies freedom.  “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (1:20), but we are free to choose how to live.  To “live by faith” (1:17) means to accept the evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20), and to willingly and freely honour God and to live according to His principles. because we trust Him.

Eternal life to come will also be a life of faith in the sense that created beings can never fully understand the infinite God.  God is the One that is without cause.  Everything that exist, exist because He gave existence to it.  In the eternal life to come He will continue to give His creation evidence of Himself, and it will be a much clearer revelation than we have today, but much must always remain that we simply cannot understand about God, purely because He has no end.  He is without end in space and time and wisdom and whatever other dimension we might think of.

Eternal life will therefore remain a life of freedom.  Sin (rebellion against God) will always remain an option.  Eternal life will not be life of forced obedience.  We will be able to do exactly what we want.  People will always have to freedom to choose for or against God.  God’s kingdom never compels people to behave in a certain way.  Compelling people is a characteristic of the enemy’s kingdom.  Like us today, people will have to accept the evidence of God that He reveals.  They will, in complete freedom, choose to live according to this evidence.  Stated differently, they will “live by faith”.  To say that man will have to accept God’s “invisible attributes” (1:20) by faith, and in complete freedom have to choose whether he will honour God, is the same as saying that eternal life will be lived “by faith”.

They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea (Isa 11:9).

God gives people up in this life when, by refusing to “live by faith”, they have proved that they will also be disloyal to God in the next life.  There is nothing else that God can do.

… but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy (2Ch 36:16).

He will not and He does not overpower the freedom of human beings with a demonstration of His authority or power.  God does not and will not scare people into obedience.  Both in this life and eternal life He gives us evidence, and if we do not accept that evidence, there is nothing else that He will do, and He gives us up.  God cannot force people in this life because he will not force people in the life to come.  If we will keep us in a prison in this life He will receive prisoners into eternal life, and that cannot be.

The idol worshipers “are without excuse” (1:20).  This means that God gave them adequate evidence of “His invisible attributes” (1:20).  “God made it evident to them” (1:19).  God is also kind, tolerant and patient (2:4). It is fair to conclude that God will not give up on a person until that person had adequate evidence and adequate opportunity to change.  This will be revealed “on the day when … God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (2:16).

To: Romans Table of Contents