"Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. 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. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus."
Since the evidence of God can be clearly seen through Scripture, creation, and human reasoning (1:19-21), unrighteous humanity has neither excuse nor claim to ignorance. While the pagans are guilty of committing heinous acts against God and each other, the legalist looks on in judgmental hypocrisy. Paul spends the first 16 verses of Romans 2 admonishing the religious moralist. Dr. John MacAruthur notes that “Paul presents his case against the religious moralist—Jew or Gentile—by cataloging six principles that govern God’s judgment” (MacArthur, 1694).
The first of Paul’s principles against the moralist is the principle of knowledge. The fact that one has not indulged in the moral excesses mentioned in chapter one, does not make that person exempt from God’s judgment. The self-righteous person has more knowledge of their sin than does the one who has never heard the name of Christ. That is why they are good at pointing out other people’s faults. They are hoping to take attention away from their own sin. It is like a boy who points a finger at his brother for eating out of the cookie jar when he himself has his hand in it. The self-righteous has a greater accountability for their sin. This person actually condemns themself because, as MacArthur puts it, “he shows that he has the knowledge to evaluate his own condition” (1694). These people are so busy finding fault with others that they have seemingly excused their own sin. They are too busy noticing the splinter in others’ eyes that they do not notice the log in their own (Mat 7:1-5).
The second of Paul’s principles against the self-righteous legalist is the principle of truth. The judgment of God falls on the unrighteous as well as the self-righteous (2:3). No one can escape the judgment of God. Since God is truth (John 14:6), disobedience against Him is untruth and thus makes one liable to judgment.
Thirdly, Paul notes the principle of guilt which condemns the moralist. The moralist takes for granted God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience, believing that these attributes are needed for only the most hardened of sinners (2:4). This person even shows contempt for God’s grace, reacting in surprised amazement when God calls a sinner out of sin. The moralist wants to see people die in their sins. The irony is that it is the religious moralist that is truly the unregenerate. While they despise the grace of God, assuming they are more righteous than others, they are truly the ones that are the most unrighteous people on the planet. They are the ones with the refusal to repent. They would rather treasure up wrath and evil in their hearts than kindness and grace. The moralist will be dealt with on the Day of Judgment.
This brings us to Paul’s fourth principle of God’s condemnation: good works. While works are not meant to merit God’s favor, grace, and salvation, they however do merit God’s judgment (Isaiah 3:10-11). The works of those who have faith alone in Christ are the evidence of their salvation. True saving faith, and eternal life in Christ, can be evidenced by good deeds (James 2:14-20).
The fifth principle of God’s condemnation against the self-righteous is the principle of impartiality (2:12). God shows none. He is a perfect judge. He chooses His people based on no merit of their own, but of His own grace and mercy. Mankind, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, is judged by God based on their sin against Him. The fact is that all have sinned (Romans 3:23), making us all liable for God’s judgment. But God casts judgment on Christ, who died for His people. All those covered by the blood of Christ will be saved from God’s wrath.
Sources: MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. Print.