Romans 2, Part 1
Oct 12, 2010
After giving us a lengthy list of sins of the "depraved mind" at the end of Romans 1, Paul then concludes in 2:1-3,
(1) 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. (2) And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (3) 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?
Paul was already beginning to work his way toward the point that the whole world was guilty before God and that "all have sinned" (3:23). Having been educated in the rabbinic traditions, where he was taught how to be righteous by obedience to the law and the traditions of the elders, where sinners were outside the temple (having been excommunicated), and where the ungodly were mainly found among the non-Jewish ethnos, Paul reverses that entire assumption by showing that all men are sinners in need of grace.
The problem, as Paul soon shows us, began with Adam, whose sin condemned him to death, along with all of his descendants and even creation itself. In 5:12 he tells us outright that the sentence for Adam's sin was death, or mortality, and because this resident death weakens us, all men sin. Paul says, "so death spread to all men, on which [eph ho] all sinned."
Mortality is a degenerative disease, pictured in the Law as leprosy. Hence, the law of the cleansing of lepers in Lev. 14 lays out the path to immortality. Seeing that it took two birds (doves) to cleanse lepers, the Law prophesied two comings of Christ, each fulfilling its own prophetic type and shadow.
Paul then traces the rise of idolatry and worship of the creatures, both man and animals, as the reason God finally turned man over to the devices of the depraved mind that is common to all men. Man is not divided into two groups, righteous or unrighteous, but are all given equal status as mortals who sin in various ways out of the same death-ridden nature. His mortality is the soul's great weakness. The soul itself God pronounced "very good," along with everything else that He created.
In other words, man does not have a sinful soul, but a mortal soul that sins. Because all men are mortal, all men sin. The doctrine of "the total depravity of man" ought to be amended accordingly.
God, then, has already judged both Adam and all men by imposing the death sentence upon all. Thus, men have no right to judge others self-righteously. Even those who have repented can claim no credit for it, for it is God who leads us to repentance.
(4) 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?
Here Paul is already previewing the sovereignty of God that is set forth more fully in Romans 9. Death working in us prevents us from repenting (turning, changing the mind or belief). God has sent forth His Spirit to work within us and institute those changes. Thus, Paul closes every avenue of escape by which a self-righteous man might claim credit for his good works. He is left without portfolio, standing naked before God, entirely dependent upon Him for his salvation.
(5) But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who will render to every man according to his deeds.
There are those who believe that at the cross Jesus put away the Law and thereby abolished sin itself, for "where there is no law, neither is there violation" (Rom. 4:15). Where there is no sin, there can be no judgment either. Hence, some say incorrectly, there is no further judgment for sin. But Paul makes it clear two decades after the cross that there is yet "the day of wrath."
While the fact of universal salvation was established at the cross, the outworking of it and thetiming of salvation is an entirely different matter. In fact, these two factors are bound up in the two doves needed to deal with death, along with the two goats needed to deal with sin (Lev. 16). When Jesus died on the cross, He finished the work of the first dove and the first goat. But He still had a second work to do, by which our salvation could be complete.
It is necessary to understand these two works of Christ in order to lay proper foundations for that which Paul explains to the saints in Rome. Paul does not contradict himself when he speaks of judgment and wrath upon the unrighteous in chapter 2, while later speaking of the salvation of all men in chapter 5.
Romans 2:6 is a loose quotation from Psalm 62:12, which reads,
(12) And lovingkindness is Thine, O Lord, for Thou dost recompense a man according to his work.
Such recompense is said to be a matter of "lovingkindness," or chesed, which means "mercy, goodness, or kindness." Because this verse is quoted by Paul in Romans 2:6 as well as by John in Rev. 20:12, 13, the judgments of God are shown to be accomplished by the mercy and kindness of God. There is certainly judicial "wrath," but the wrath of God always proceeds out of His character--and God is Love. It is therefore to be seen as parental chastisement of a child, rather than as the unloving judgment of an impersonal judge.
Wrath itself comes from the Hebrew word aph, or "nose." It has to do with breathing hard, such a horse snorting in a threatening manner. Yet God is also patient (or "long-suffering"), which literally means "long nosed." Together, these Hebrew concepts formed Paul's thought process. One cannot separate the wrath of God from His patience, love, and mercy. This is seen clearly when a parent appears to be full of wrath when he or she disciplines the child, and yet the discipline is done out of love, rather than anger or hatred. The purpose of judgment is to correct the child, not to destroy him.
So also it is with the judgments of God. The wrath of God proceeds out of a heart of love, as He renders to every man according to his deeds. In my book, The Restoration of All Things, I show that judgment is eonian, not aidios. Judgment pertains to an indefinite time period, an eon which had a beginning and an end. Such judgment was not abolished at the cross, but His death ensured that this judgment would end in a Jubilee, according to the justice of the divine Law.
In Romans 2, Paul shows that God will render to every man according to his works, whether good or evil.
(6) who will render to every man according to his deeds, (7) to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, aionian life ["life in The Age"]; (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 to the Greek.
Paul's use of the term aionian zoe reflects the common belief of a Messianic Age yet to come, in which the Messiah would come and judge mankind. That coming Age was called "The Age." In that Age to come, men would be judged, some being recompensed for their evil deeds and others rewarded with immortality. Immortality is the reward itself; aionian life is the age in which it is enjoyed.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 2." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones