God’s principles of judgment – Romans 2:1-16

God’s principles of judgment – Romans 2:1-16

                “A man was able to join the Emperor of China’s orchestra, although he could not play a note. Whenever the group played, he would hold his flute against his lips, not daring even to blow softly for fear he might cause a discord. He received a modest salary and was able to live comfortably. One day, the emperor happened to desire that each musician play for him solo. The flutist became desperate. He tried to take quick professional lessons but to no avail, but he really had no ear for music. He pretended to be sick, but the Royal Physician who attended him knew better, causing him to be increasingly apprehensive. On the day of his solo appearance, he took poison rather than face the music. From this comes the old Chinese proverb: “He dared not face the music.”[1] There is coming a day in which sinful man must stand before God and face the music. God is our judge. He is the one that will bring our sins into account. He is the one that determines our standing with Him. The good news for the believer in Christ is that we have a good lawyer. We have an advocate and His name is Jesus. Though we are deserving of the just wrath of almighty God, we are safe and secure by the blood of Jesus. Paul has already shown us how the unbelieving world is without excuse.  God has revealed Himself to all men and has given all of mankind the capacity to know Him; however, they have suppressed the truth and refuse to believe in Him. Therefore, God gives them up to the consequences of their sin which ultimately leads to God’s wrath. Beginning in verse 17 of Romans 2, we find that the religious and moral world is also without excuse. We are all sinners and we are all deserving of God’s wrath. Here in the first 16 verses of chapter 2; before turning his attention to the religious and moral, Paul lays out the principles by which God judges.

God judges righteously. Notice what Paul says in verse 1-4: “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”[2] The ‘therefore’ in verse one most likely takes us back to what Paul said in 1:18-19. Paul is addressing those who think they will escape the judgment of God because they do not do the immoral things listed in 1:21-32. So often we judge what see of people on the outside. We see someone living in sin and we compare them to ourselves. As we do so, we tend to think that we are better than those who commit such vile actions and we think that somehow we are above God’s wrath. The point that is being made here is that evil desires constitute sin as well as evil actions. It is what’s in the heart and mind that God looks at. Some may think that since their immoral thoughts are not observable then they are free from guilt. This cannot be any further from the truth. God sees what it is in the heart. He knows the real you and He knows the real me.  Instead of acting like judges over the sins of others, we should view ourselves as sinners subject to the judgment of God. Just because you do not practice homosexuality does not mean that you are better than the homosexual. Just because you have never killed another human being does not mean that you are better than the murderer. Just because you have never abused a child does not mean that you are better than the pedophile. God knows your heart and He knows that you are also a sinner. If it were not for His grace, you would find yourself committing the same gross and vile sins that we are so quick to judge. The point here is ‘if you think you stand, take heed, lest you fall.’ None of us is above sin. None of us deserve to escape the divine and just judgment of God. The judgment of God is righteous. He does not look at just what we see, He looks at the heart.

God’s judgment will deal with what every person really did. Romans 2:5-10 tells us, “5But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [3]These can be some difficult verses to understand, so let us look at these verses within the context of which Paul is writing. Previously, Paul dealt with the subject of the wrath of God. The wrath of God must and will fall on sin. Those who suppress the truth of God will, in fact, be subject to the wrath of God in this life. The wrath of God in this life is the turning over of one’s life to their sinful practices and allowing them to suffer the full consequences of their sin. At the same time, God is loving and merciful. He desires that everyone repent and turn to Him. Therefore, He is holding back the full fury of His wrath until the Day of Judgment. Because sinful man continues to harden his heart and suppress the truth, the wrath of God is being stored up to be unleashed on that day of reckoning. Verse 6 explains that on this day, God will judge everyone according to what they actually did. A.M. Hunter writes, “A man’s destiny on Judgment Day will depend not on whether he has known God’s will but on whether he has done it.”[4] So, what it God’s will? God’s will is that you and I would come to repentance; that we would believe on the Lord Jesus and accept His gift of grace. Eternal life is given to all those who obey the truth (the call to salvation) and eternal damnation is given to all those who suppress the truth and refuse to obey the truth. The New American Commentary says, “God, whose judgments are absolutely fair and just (v. 5), will render to every person on that day of final reckoning that which is appropriate in accordance with his or her deeds (v. 6). Here we have a basic principle of divine judgment. God will “give75 to each person according to what that person has done” (cf. Ps 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Matt 16:27). But you say, I thought Paul taught clearly that a person is saved by faith. That is true. A bit later he affirmed that a person “is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Rom 3:18). But in the immediate context Paul was not teaching how we are made right with God but how God judges the reality of our faith. Faith is not an abstract quality that can be validated by some spiritual test unrelated to life. God judges faith by the difference it makes in how a person actually lives.[5] With the whole context of Romans in view we should understand that Paul probably meant that if a person obeys God perfectly, he or she will receive eternal life. Those who do not obey God perfectly receive wrath. Later he would clarify that no man can obey God perfectly, so all are under His wrath. With this thought in mind, we will discover later in Romans that since all are under the wrath of God; however, all are also given the offer of the free gift of justification which comes by faith. The underlining point here is that man is totally and utterly hopeless. We are all sinners; therefore, we are all under God’s wrath. None of us perfectly obeys God’s truth; therefore, we are all condemned no matter who we are. You may say, ‘preacher, this is all rather depressing, why preach such a thing?’ O, that you would see the beauty of it all! You see, before we can really appreciate the Gospel, we must come to an understanding of just how serious our sin is. The more we realize our state apart from Christ, the more we appreciate our standing with Christ. The more we realize our hopelessness apart from Christ, the more we understand how valuable the Gospel is. The more valuable we view the Gospel, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more we serve Him. The more we serve Him, the more we love others. The more we love others, the more our lives have a lasting impact on the world around us. The more our lives have a lasting impact on the world around us, the more our lives give Him glory! Therefore, it is good for us to see all our sin in all its filthiness and vileness. For in seeing our sinfulness, we see our need for the cross and we see the amazing beauty of the cross!

God’s judgment is fair.  Often people tend to think of God and His judgment as unfair. Yet, Romans 2:11 says,” For there is no partiality with God.” In other words, there is equal justice for all in God’s court. The moral and religious man will be judged in the same manner as the worst of sinners. There is no special treatment. All human beings created in the image of God are all equal in the eyes of God. We are all human, we are all sinners, and we all have an Almighty God with whom we must give and account.

God’s judgment is just toward everyone. Romans 2:12-16 says, “12For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.[6]The question that many raise is: will God judge those who never heard the Gospel and have never responded to what little revelation that they do have? There are a couple of principles here that we should keep in mind. 1. It is not the hearing of the law that makes a person acceptable to God, but the doing of what it commands that makes a person acceptable to God. This, of course, is impossible for man to do. This is the purpose of the Gospel; to do what man cannot do. Dr. Constable writes, “The justified person is not necessarily blameless; he may have done things that are wrong. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the law, he is not culpable (blameworthy). He does not have to pay for his crimes.” [7] The principle here is that you do not have to be brought up as a religious person or even a moral person in order to be saved. Those who do not have the privilege of growing up in a home where the Gospel is central may also come to faith in Christ. 2. All mankind has an innate sense of morality. We are all without excuse, because we are created with the inner knowledge of right and wrong. All people grow up understanding that some things are truly bad and other things are truly good. Because of this knowledge, no one has an excuse; we are all condemned and justly so. Dr. Constable gives a good explanation to the question concerning those who never hear the Gospel: “Paul later showed that no one responds appropriately to the truth he or she has. All fail so all stand condemned. He also made it very clear that it is impossible to enjoy salvation without trusting in Jesus Christ. That is why Jesus gave the Great Commission and why the Gospel is so important.”[8] Every single soul around the world has within them the inner knowledge of good and evil. Every soul has built within them the inner knowledge that there is a Creator. Therefore, every soul is responsible for his or her actions. In addition to this, every soul has the God-given capability of accepting the gift of salvation. It is the duty of the Christian, however, to make sure that every soul hears the Gospel.

In light of the judgment of God, as sinners, we are compelled to obey the Gospel. Obedience to the Gospel requires faith. It is a believing faith. It is a trust in Jesus. Believing that He is our only hope and that in Him and in Him alone there is forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life. Have you trusted in Jesus? In light of the judgment of God, as believers, we compelled to obey the Great Commission. We must have a greater commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel to the four corners of the world.


[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 2:1–4). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 2:5–10). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] A.M. Hunter, The epistle to the Romans, p. 36

[5] Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans. The New American Commentary (Vol. 27, pp. 90–91). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ro 2:12–16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Dr. Constable, Notes on Romans. p. 32

[8] Dr. Constable, Notes on Romans, p. 33

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