How God judges the lost and the saved, the ignorant heathen, the religious Jew, and churchman
God judges (1) according to truth vs. appearances (vv. 1–5), (2) according to works for the saved and the unsaved (vv. 6–10), and (3) impartially (no favoritism) according to the light one has of the law (God’s moral law; vv. 11–16). This is a teaching on God’s principles of judgment not on justification by faith as we will see from the text. The Scripture is in italics and the commentary is in non-italics.
1) God judges according to truth vs. appearances (vv. 1–5) – Hypocrisy and self-righteous condemnation of others is sin. – God judges “rightly” (justly) according to truth/reality (i.e. versus appearances – hypocrisy; see 1 Sam. 16:7). “Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly (justly) falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?” The sin of self-righteousness and prideful condemnation of others was the sin that evoked Jesus’ harshest criticism of the Pharisees. (See Matthew 5-7 and 23.) They appeared righteous to themselves and maybe in the eyes of “sinners” but Jesus knew the truth and judged them for their hypocrisy. [“Not only do the Old Testament Scriptures prove that Paul’s accusations were accurate concerning the Jews of Old (OT Jews committed egregious sins against God and killed the prophets who rebuked them), the New Testament Scriptures indicate that the Jews of Jesus’ and Paul’s day were guilty of the same sins. In Matthew 23, our Lord charged the scribes and Pharisees with hypocrisy (23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29), stealing (23:14, 25), murder (23:31, 34, 37), self-indulgence (23:25) and lawlessness (23:28). Furthermore, Paul’s list of Old Testament indictments in Romans 3:10-18 is applied to the Jews of his day, to show that they were guilty of just such sins.” http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=gen%2031&version=NASB]
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?” From Genesis 2 we know that sin leads to physical and spiritual death (and hell unless we are born again) so every time we or our loved ones sin and don’t die we/they are receiving God’s “kindness and tolerance and patience” along with innumerable blessings every day. Yet too often we “think lightly” of God’s goodness to us. This gross ingratitude is sin in itself. 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…” When we judge/condemn others (pridefully – implied) and yet do the same thing ourselves we condemn ourselves. If we judge someone for being proud and yet are proud ourselves we are admitting that our very same behavior is wrong. Yet people can do this their entire life and never see their sin. But God sees it and will judge us both for the sin of pride and the self-righteous judgment of others. For example, Jacob was a deceiver and yet when he was deceived by Laban he was incensed for doing the same kind of thing he had done to his brother and father. (Gen. 31:36-42) Today this can be seen in the church. Prideful, legalistic church folks (unsaved) commit self-righteous judgment and will incur more of God’s wrath at the white throne judgment. And when we as believers judge others in self-righteous pride this will be judged as wood, hay, and straw at the judgment seat of Christ and we will “suffer loss” of eternal rewards. (See 1 Cor. 3:10-15) Though we may fool people by our self-righteousness God cannot be fooled and will render full justice for it in the end. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Gal. 6:7)
2) God judges according to works for the saved and the unsaved (vv. 6–10) – “God … will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” [“According to verse 7, it seems that eternal life can be gained by doing good. But Romans (and many other epistles) clearly teach justification by faith (3:22). But Paul does not contradict himself. The subject of this verse is judgment, not justification. Believers who continue in good works will receive rewards in the life to come. Whenever the NT speaks of eternal life as a present possession, it is a gift received by faith (John 3:16); but whenever it refers to eternal life as something to be received in the future by those who are already believers, it refers to eternal rewards (5:21; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 6:17–19; Titus 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:7). Rewards will be based on works accomplished here on earth.” Radmacher, Earl D. ; Allen, Ronald Barclay ; House, H. Wayne: Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville : T. Nelson Publishers, 1999, S. Ro 1:1-7]
The root of salvation is by grace through faith and not works (Eph. 2:8-9) but the fruit of true salvation is good works. (Eph. 2:10 and James 2:17-26) Real faith will always manifest itself in good works. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments.” (John 14:21; also see v. 21) So here we see that God will judge both the believer and the unbeliever based on their deeds. And there are degrees of rewards for the believer based on his works and degrees of punishment in hell for unbelievers based on their works. (See 1 Cor. 3:10-15 for believers and Revelation 20:11-15 for unbelievers.)
3) God judges impartially (no favoritism) and according to the light one has of the law (from general revelation – creation and conscience, or the Mosaic Law) (vv. 11–16). ”For there is no partiality with God.” [“Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of identity, money, power, or weakness; blind justice and impartiality.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Justice] 12” For all who have sinned without the Law (unsaved Gentiles) will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law (Jews) will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” [“This is an indictment against the Jews, who would judge the Gentiles by their Law (even though they had not received it), but would not judge themselves by it (even though they had received it).” https://bible.org/seriespage/3-coming-wrath-god-self-righteousness-unrighteousness-romans-21-29]
14” For when (unsaved) Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets (motives of the heart) of men through Christ Jesus.” God does not judge people differently because of their background (children of Abraham) etc., but based on how they respond to the amount of revelation (truth about God) they have received. For the unsaved Gentiles in Paul’s day who had never read the OT Scriptures (or today an ignorant heathen who has never read the Bible or heard or Jesus) God judges them based on how they respond to God’s testimony written on their hearts through creation (Rom. 1:18-19; Psalm 19) and conscience. (Rom. 2:14-16) And to the Jews who have the Law of Moses, God holds them to a higher level of accountability. (Luke 12:47-48) (Read the attached doc. about an aboriginal man from Africa who came to Christ as he responded to his knowledge of God through creation and conscience.) As we respond to God’s truth in obedience He gives us more revelation – both as an unbeliever and a believer. (Acts 17:26-27; John 7:17; 8:31-32; Col 1:9-10) Eternal rewards at the judgment seat of Christ will not be based on the amount of works but it will be a based on faithfulness to opportunity. So a gifted evangelist might not receive any more rewards than the praying grandmother who is faithful to do what God has called her to do, e.g., to intercede for the saints and humbly serve her family, church members, and neighbors. (See Matthew 25 and Luke 19)
“By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20) In summary, the first three chapters of Romans (1:18-3:20) is to bring conviction to the Gentiles and Jews showing that they/we all have sinned against God and are under His wrath (the bad news) to point them/us to the gospel (the good news) that we can be “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation (appeased, satisfied God’s justice) in His blood through faith.” (Rom. 3:24-25) Yet, there are applications for us as believers to glean from this:
1) Knowing that God judges in perfect justice we need to repent of hidden sins and hidden motives that man may not see but God sees: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:12-13) Self-righteous, prideful judgment/condemnation of others is sin and receives Jesus’ harshest rebukes. “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:1-5) We are told by our Lord to use discernment (Matt. 7:16, 20) but not to judge/condemn others in pride. Any goodness we have comes from our Lord. (John 15:5)
2) God judges according to works for the saved and the unsaved (vv. 6–10) – “God … will render to each person according to his deeds.” (Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; Rev. 20:10-15) Paul speaking to believers says, ”Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:9-10) ”Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:9-10) Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) and calls us to do likewise. In the right sense, we are to be “do-gooders” for God’s glory. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
3) God judges impartially (no favoritism) and according to the light one has of the law (from general revelation – creation and conscience or the Mosaic Law) (vv. 11–16) Comparing ourselves to others either in prideful condemnation or false humility will keep us focused on the other runners and not our own race (being a faithful steward of the gifts and opportunities given to me by God day by day). “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (God’s unique gifting and calling on my life), 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus (not on other people), the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2) Play to an Audience of One – God not man.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23-24) “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.” (Rom. 2:1; also see Matt. 7:1-5) Compare these Scriptures and discuss the difference. Which of these attitudes/practices is more prevalent in your life? How can we learn the lesson and apply it to our daily lives?
2) Did you know that “God….will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6) – both the saved and the unsaved? Compare 1 Cor. 3:10-15 to Rev. 20:11-15 as it relates to works. What is the difference between salvation/justification and God’s judgment of our deeds? (See Eph. 2:8-9 then v. 10) Does this knowledge motivate you to be like Jesus Who “went about doing good”? (Acts 10:38)
3) God judges impartially (no favoritism) and according to the light one has of the law (creation/conscience or the Mosaic Law) (vv. 11–16) What light/revelation do unsaved people have and what Scriptures in Romans 1&2 tell us this? What light/revelation did the Jews have in Paul’s time? What light/revelation do we have today as believers? How does God judge both believers and unbelievers based on Rom. 2:11-16? How can unbelievers and believers get more light/revelation from God? (Acts 17:26-27; Col. 1:9-11)