One of the reasons it is such a bracing experience to read the book of Romans is that Paul the apostle had no patience with hypocrisy. He exposed it with clear-eyed precision right at the beginning of his letter. Right after dealing with the moral degeneracy of Roman society in chapter one, he launched into an imaginary dialogue with people who are quick to judge the faults in others without examining their own actions and motives.
The morality police in Romans chapter two may have been arrogant philosophers who considered themselves to be morally superior to the masses. They may have been religious legalists who attempted to make themselves righteous by trying to please God, not by faith, but by religious works. They were the ones who scorned bad behavior in others but but failed to recognize it in themselves.
Just as the pagans (1:20) are without excuse, Paul says to them, “You, therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment are doing the same things” (Romans 2:1).
Paul is not speaking against judging as such, but against hypocritical judging. It is truly hypocritical to pretend to be virtuous when you do the same things you condemn in others. The fact is, when people (no matter how apparently virtuous) condemn others, they at the same time condemn themselves.
God’s standard applies to all and he knows the truth about every one of us (Romans 2:2-3). What Paul is saying is that the morally degenerate reprobate, the morally superior philosopher, and the morally righteous Jew are equally susceptible to God’s judgment which is based upon truth. The day is coming when “God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”(Romans 2:5). It will apply equally to all.
Therefore, Paul is insistent that a double standard of judgment, a high bar for others and a low bar for oneself, is out of the question. God sees us as we really are and he will judge us all according to our deeds. “God will repay each person according to what they have done” (Romans 2:6). This principle is repeated throughout scripture and is a basis of God’s justice. This means that hypocrites will have no place to stand in the day of God’s righteous wrath.
In all of his writings Paul emphasizes that people are saved not by what they do but by faith in what Christ has done on the cross. He is teaching here, however, that “persistence in doing good” (2:7) is the evidence, or fruit, of sincere, genuine faith (Galatians 5:6; James 2:14-16). “Each person” (2:6), “every human being” (2:9), “everyone” (2:10) will be judged according to their deeds. God’s judgments will be perfectly fair and impartial.
The religious person who knows what the scriptures teach but does not obey them has no advantage over the person who has no knowledge of scripture. In fact the irreligious person who follows the light of conscience to do what is morally or ethically right has just as much moral awareness as the religious hypocrite (Romans 2:12-15).
In the second half of the chapter, Paul goes deeper. He has an imaginary debate with a pious person who regards himself as privileged, and is proud of it. He trusts in ancestral traditions, ceremonies, rituals and external signs of religious identification. Was Paul remembering his own past attitudes as a devout Jew before he believed in Jesus? He recognizes all these religious advantages, but then shows how if a person does not practice what he preaches, he is a hypocrite. He is no better off than the Gentile who was not brought up with the word of God.
Someday God will judge the secrets of the hearts of all people. This will be in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16). The gospel message is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
Pastor Randy Faulkner