In chapter one of Romans, Paul taught the “saints” of Rome about the gospel and told of his calling by God to be His apostle. He blessed them and thanked God for them. Paul gave a thematic statement for this letter: the righteousness of God. He explained God’s wrath would come upon each person who is ungodly and unrighteous. Paul further explained that even pagans have no excuse for their ungodliness. He wrote God reveals Himself through creation and His continuing creative process in the world. This natural revelation of God tells the natural order of things and reveals God and His code for right living.
With the last Bible study taken from Romans 1:23-32, Paul made sure the Romans understood God sees everyone’s sins. He taught against sins of the heart, body, and mind in verses twenty-three through thirty-two. Paul wrote against idolatry (vs. 23-25), sexual deviance (vs. 26-27) and gave a list of sins coming from a depraved mind (vs. 29-31). He ensured the “saints” of Rome realized each of these made a person “worthy of death” because they go against the ordinances of God (vs. 32).
From the beginning of Romans 2, Paul spoke specifically to Jews and Greeks. In this chapter, he stated four main truths of God, which he emphasized with rhetorical questions. These main truths are in verses two, eleven, sixteen, and twenty-nine. Verse two says, “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” Paul said in verse eleven, “For there is no partiality with God.” With verse sixteen, Paul said, “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” He ended the chapter in verse twenty-nine by saying, “Circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter; and his [the righteous person] praise is not from men, but from God.” With the foundation of these verses and more to come in later chapters, Paul laid out an understanding of God’s truths and judgment, the sinfulness of humanity, and the salvation God provides.
In this Bible study, we will study and understand what Paul said in Romans 2:1-4. Paul explained no person can judge and condemn anyone. He said God bases His judgment on truth. Paul used rhetorical questions to emphasize every person is a sinner and so is disqualified to be a judge. He said God is righteous and no one will escape His judgment. God is the perfect, righteous Judge. Finally, Paul aimed for the hearts of his readers and listeners. He taught with the second rhetorical question that God’s kindness leads us to repentance. Let’s begin our study of verses one through four.
In chapter two, Paul used a technique in this letter to the Romans that he used in other letters, and that writers and teachers of the time often practiced. He used rhetorical questions to make his point. By asking rhetorical questions that sounded ridiculous, the truthful answer emphasized the point Paul wanted the people to understand in this teaching. Verses three through four, and eighteen through twenty-three use this rhetorical method of teaching. With the Bible study of chapter three, more rhetorical questions occur. We will study each of them as they occur in other Bible studies in this series on Romans.
Though I titled this section “God’s Truth,” we must understand Paul inserted God’s truths throughout this letter. The four basic truths in this chapter set the foundation for the letter to the Romans. These truths speak of God’s righteousness, justice, and impartiality, the unrighteousness of each person, and God’s mercy and grace. In Romans 2:1-4, two statements of fact/truth occur-God bases His judgment on truth and all people are sinners. Let’s consider these four verses closer. Read what Paul wrote in Romans 2:1-4,
Therefore, you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (NASB)
Each Person is a Sinner
First, with verse one, Paul spoke to each hearer and reader of this letter-Jew, Greek, and pagan-of that time and each one since then. Though he wrote to the pagans specifically in chapter one, he implied the chapter was for all people. With chapter two, Paul spoke specifically to Jews and Greeks, but implied the lessons were for every person. God did not send His Son, Jesus, to die for some people, but for all people. Paul understood this.
Paul began Romans 2:1 with the word, “therefore.” This means his next statement hangs on what he said in the preceding verses. In chapter one, Paul ended by giving a list of sins of the heart, body, and mind. With chapter two, he said, because of these sins, you have no excuse. He wanted every person to recognize they each are sinners and are unrighteous. Because of that, no one has an excuse for passing judgment, Paul said. This word “excuse” comes from the Greek word anapologetos. It literally means no (an) defense or argument (apologetos). For what did Paul say no one has an excuse? Why did he say no excuse exists for anyone? In Romans 1:20, Paul said no person has an excuse to say he/she did not know God and what is right or wrong because people can know Him through creation, natural order, and His active creative presence in the world. From chapter one that meant no person has an excuse for sin by saying they did not know God. For Romans 2, this idea carries forward. Paul said people have no reason to judge other people for their sins since each of them is a sinner. No one is righteous and can judge another person because each person does the same sins for which they judge the other. Only a person without sin may judge someone else. No one is righteous and so no one can point a finger and decide someone else deserves punishment. Paul said this at the end of verse one when he said, “for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself.” When we say someone has done evil, that same thing the person did is evil when we do it, too. Our condemnation of the sin condemns us, too. God condemns each person-judges as guilty and worthy of punishment-because of his/her sins. If a person judges another person for his/her wrongdoing, but does the same, that judge is a hypocrite.
Consider these Bible passages. Nathan, the prophet, called King David on the same thing in 2 Samuel 12:5-7. In this passage, David condemned the rich man who took a poor man’s sheep to feed a traveler instead of one of his own sheep. Nathan said David did the same thing by taking another man’s wife for his own use. Jesus emphasized this in Matthew 7:1 in the Sermon on the Mount when he told the listeners, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Jesus, when confronted with a woman caught in adultery, wrote on the ground and then said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” [John 8:7, (NASB)] Paul continued this teaching later in Romans 14:22 when he said, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approved.” The point of truth Paul made in verse one is each person is a sinner and that disqualifies him/her from being a judge of other people’s sins.
Questions for Reflection:
· Do you recognize you have done wicked things, said evil things, and contemplated vile thoughts? These make you a sinner. Every person who has ever lived was a sinner.
· Of what have you considered that is evil in God’s sight? What have you done that is a sin? What words have you spoken that do not honor God? You are a sinner.
· Do you realize then, you have no right to judge another person? You are not blameless so how can you judge someone else who is not blameless?
God’s Judgment is Righteous
Paul continued from that idea and made a bold statement about God with verse two. He said, “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those people who practice such things.” With this statement coming directly after verse one teaching no person is righteous and, thus, cannot judge another person, Paul said God rightly judges. Paul is not the only Bible writer to declare God a righteous judge. David said it in Psalm 50:6 when he said, “And the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge.” Jeremiah 11:20 speaks of God as the righteous judge. Genesis 18:25 records Abraham declaring God is a righteous judge who would not let His righteous people perish when He judged the wicked.
As we continue to study verse two, we must look at the words Paul used. The word “know” comes from the Greek word oikeios, which means having seen, perceived, and, therefore, know. This knowing comes from experience of God and/or with God. The pagans experienced God through creation and His continuing creative process. Later in Romans, Paul said the Greeks knew God through their consciences and the Jews through the Laws of God. The word “rightly” comes from the Greek word kata. This rightness comes down from a higher plane to a lower plane and has its basis on God’s characteristics of righteousness and truth, based on His being. With these two words taken together, this verse means, we recognize from experience with and watching God that His judgment is right and deserved. It comes from His righteousness upon people who sin in word, thought, and action (heart, mind, and body). People, because of their sins, fall short of God’s standards of right living; they miss the mark.
Because each person is sinful and not righteous, he/she cannot judge fairly. That person's condemnation of a sin in another person would condemn him or herself because he/she practice sin, too. Yet God is righteous and can pass judgment down upon each person because of his/her sin. Added to this, John stated in 1 John 1:9, God’s faithfulness-His kindness-extends to people who confess. He said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NASB) Paul spoke about this in Romans 2:4.
Questions for Reflection:
· Have you stopped and acknowledged for yourself God exists, He is mighty, and He is righteous?
· Have you recognized you do not qualify to be God? You are not righteous.
· Will you admit you are sinful?
Rhetorical Questions Emphasize the Points
With verses three and four, Paul emphasized the points from verses one and two by asking rhetorical questions. The people contemplated the things about which Paul asked, but recognized the true answers in their hearts. With these questions, Paul addressed people’s ideas that God does not see their sins and, thus, they will go unjudged.
Will You Escape Judgment?
In verse three, Paul’s first question was, “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?” This question is straightforward in Greek and English. Paul spoke to anthropos, not men, but all people. Do you suppose you will escape the due judgment for the sins you do of which you convict another person with your judgment of him/her? This question reiterates Paul’s idea in verse one. The thing for which any person judges another is the same thing for which God will judge us, too. God sees everything-every sin-each person does, says, and thinks.
Jesus illustrated this point in Matthew 12:21-35 with the parable of the unforgiving debtor. A king wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. One slave owed him ten thousand talents (60,000,000 denarii or $34,800,000) and could not pay it. The king ordered the sale of his family to pay the debt. The slave begged the king to have patience and he would repay his debt. The king had compassion on the slave and granted a reprieve. Upon leaving the king’s presence, the slave began collecting from people who owed him. He confronted and began choking a fellow slave demanding repayment of his 100 denarii (about $58), then put him in prison. When the king heard of this, he scolded the slave and said he should have had compassion on the other slave like he himself gave to him for his debt of ten thousand talents ($34,800,000). The king had that slave put into prison because he did not learn from his master and showed no mercy or compassion on his fellow slave. The first slave was no better than the second slave. They both owed a debt. The first slave deigned to judge the second harshly when he himself owed much more. God is like the king in this parable. He knows everything each person does. He chooses to have compassion and show mercy to us; still, people choose to be unmerciful and uncompassionate. Their judgment is skewed and marred by their own sinfulness.
God’s compassion and mercy comes from His love. His judgments come from His righteousness. The slave’s judgment came from his lack of compassion and righteousness. He skewed his judgment in his own favor. The slave showed contempt for the king and his compassionate judgment of him when he did not follow the king’s example. The king’s final judgment of this slave came against him because of the slave’s lack of compassion and mercy.
Paul’s first rhetorical question was, “Do you suppose you will escape God’s judgment when you do the same sin for which you judge another?” The peoples’ first answer would have been, “Yes.” They thought they could escape God’s judgment of their sins. Yet, they understood in their hearts the answer was rightly, “No.” They realized no sin escapes the knowledge of God. People answer this same question in the same way even today. This question leads to several truths.
1. Every person sins and is a sinner.
2. God knows your sin and rightly judges it.
3. You cannot escape from your sin or His judgment.
Questions for Reflection:
· What sins have you committed? Where have you given in to temptation?
· Have you ever really battled not to give in to temptation? Maybe you drink too much alcohol, or take illegal drugs, or beat your family members. Maybe you cheat on your taxes, tell small lies, or have an emotional attachment to someone who is not your spouse. These are each sins. There are many others.
· Have you realized you cannot hide these sins or yourself from God? There is nowhere you go and nothing you do that keeps you hidden from Him. His right judgment will happen.
Do You Disregard the Riches of God’s Kindness?
In verse four, Paul asked a second rhetorical question. The people would answer, “No,” but would realize in their hearts based on the way they lived, the answer was really “Yes.” Paul asked in verse four, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
Beginning this question with the word “or” makes the reader focus on what came before this verse. The “or” in this verse means “as opposed to.” The word “lightly” comes from the Greek word kataphroneo, which means to disregard, or consider unimportant. Paul’s “riches” means an uncountable quantity of riches of spiritual and material wealth. In this verse, Paul spoke of the wealth of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. “Kindness” is God’s goodness, gentleness, and uprightness toward people. “Forbearance” is God’s mercy withholding judgment. This forbearance is His patient endurance hoping each person will turn to Him as his/her God. The Greek word used here for "forbearance" occurs only twice in the New Testament, here and in Romans 3:25. Romans 3:25 speaks of God presenting Christ as a sacrifice to demonstrate His righteousness, because, in His forbearance, He had left the sins committed before unpunished. “Patience” is God’s waiting a long time before expressing anger. This expresses God’s divinely regulated patience, longer than we can think or imagine.
Understanding these words allows us to realize Paul asked the Romans if they took lightly God’s riches of kindness, forbearance, and patience, not knowing the kindness of God leads to repentance. God gave His forbearance and patience toward us-all people-so His kindness would lead us to seek Him, repent, and become His children through salvation. Exodus 34:6 speaks of this same thing when it records Moses teaching the Israelites the LORD is compassionate and gracious. He is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Paul spoke again about God’s patience and mercy in 1 Timothy 1:16 when he wrote, “And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost [blasphemer, persecutor, and violent aggressor, as he said in 1 Timothy 1:14], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” Peter spoke about God’s patience and desire that no one perish in 2 Peter 3:9. He further wrote in 2 Peter 3:15, the Lord’s patience means our salvation.
In Romans 2:4, Paul meant through this rhetorical question, if you think God does not see your sins and you will escape His judgment, and if you think lightly of His riches of kindness, forbearance, and patience, you do not realize that He shows His great kindness to you to lead you to repentance. You are blind to Him and focused solely upon yourself and your selfish ambition. The life you want to lead is of more value to you than God’s riches of kindness, forbearance, and patience. You consider His riches a small thing compared to doing what you want. This means you contemptuously throw God’s riches back into His face.
Paul ended this section with a profound statement. He said, God’s kindness leads you to repentance. God gives his kindness out of His compassion so each person will be saved from a judgment of eternal separation from Him. Paul’s second rhetorical question was, “Or do you think lightly of God’s riches, not knowing His kindness was to lead you to repentance?” The peoples’ first answer would have been, “No, they do not think lightly of God’s riches,” but they recognized in their hearts the answer was actually, “Yes.” They cared more about what they wanted to do than loving God by obeying Him. They did not consider God’s riches of kindness, forbearance, and patience worthy of consideration when they decided to do what they wanted. People today answer this question the same way. This question leads people to God’s truths.
1. God wants everyone to be saved from their sins and the judgment due because of their sins.
2. God is compassionate, merciful, and patient. He wants no one to be eternally separated from Him and His love.
3. God’s kindness to you is to lead you to repentance.
Questions for Reflection:
· Do you think lightly of God’s love, mercy, and patience?
· Do you think, “Oh, He won’t care; I’m too small a fish in this big world?”
· Do you understand God continues to show you kindness instead of judgment hoping you will repent and return to Him?
· Understand, you are not too small in this big world for Him to love you. He loves you and sent His Son to die for you so He could be in a relationship with you.
· What will you do now knowing of this great love of God?
Though this section of chapter two is small, it carries great meaning. Paul taught the Roman saints and other hearers and readers about God’s truths. Each person sins. Those sins separate the person from Him. Isaiah understood sin separates each person from God. He said in Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that he does not hear.” (NASB) God sees the sins of each person. No one is qualified to judge and condemn another person for his/her sins. God is righteous and because of this, He alone is qualified to judge. His judgments are right. God wants everyone to be saved. His kindness, forbearance, and patience lead people to repentance. Peter said in 2 Peter 3:9b, “God is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” (NASB)
From these truths, Paul continued in chapter two to lay the foundation for the gospel of Christ’s saving grace for all people. In Romans 2:11, he said God is an impartial judge. He proved no person is qualified to be a judge because everyone is sinful and “looking out for number one.” People are prejudiced, but God is impartial. With this next truth from verse eleven, the readers and hearers of the letter to the Romans will understand better why God is the most qualified to judge sinners. Paul then led them to understand even the Jews are not exempt from God’s judgment, though God set them aside as His people. He said in verse sixteen, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. What that means we will learn in a later Bible study. The final main truth of chapter two reveals a Jew-a true believer in God-is one whose heart the Holy Spirit circumcises. We will understand each of these foundational points as we continue our study of Romans.
Conclusion and Relevance
No person exists, ever lived, or will live that is perfect, except the Son of God who came to live in human form among the people of earth. God knew humanity would corrupt His gift of free-will by selfish ambition and desire. For this reason, He planned from the beginning of time to have the Messiah-the anointed One, His Son-to be born a human on earth, live a sin-free life, die a judgment for sin yet be sin-free, and rise from death the victor over sin and death. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, God’s word points to this Messiah, and the salvation and restoration of humanity to a relationship with Him forever.
Should we ever consider ourselves greater than others, Jesus pointed the way to lead us to be the servant of others. He said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you, shall be your servant.” [Matthew 20:26 (NASB)] Continually throughout time, prophets and men of God said no one is sin-free (righteous) and can judge other people. [Romans 3:10, Psalm 14:1-3, & 53:1-3] Only God is righteous. Yet, we can always remember what John taught in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (NASB)
If you are already a believer in Jesus Christ and Christ justified you to the Father, you are still a sinner and can walk away from God and His ways. Still, you have the hope of Christ in you. Just as God told King Solomon and he taught to the Israelites in 2 Chronicles 7:14, we, too, can receive cleansing and renewed life when we humble ourselves, pray, and repent before God. In this passage, God said, “If My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (NASB)
God is faithful to His promises. He will forgive you if you seek Him and humbly repent. God said He is just and will forgive you.
Today you have a choice:
If you are not already a believer, but recognize you are a sinner and want forgiveness and a right relationship with God, pray to Him.
1. Admit you are a sinner.
2. Believe Jesus is the Son of God whom He sent to die your sin judgment.
3. Confess Jesus as your Lord.
God’s kindness has kept His final judgment back so you could have the chance to come to repentance, Paul said in Romans 2:4.
If you are already a believer and recognize you have walked away from God, come back to God.
1. Humble yourself before Him.
2. Repent of your sins and.
3. Turn away from that wickedness.
God will forgive and restore you.
Every one of us has sinned. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23)
What we deserve for sinning against God is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life with Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
(Note: All Bible passages are from the New American Standard Bible)