Standards are applied equally (Romans 2:1-3)
It is very easy to see the corruption of the Greeks and feel morally superior, but the very fact that you recognize that what the Greeks did was wrong means you have no excuse when you do the same thing (Matthew 7:1-5). This failing was particularly difficult for the Jews to overcome. That Paul had the Jews in mind can be seen from Romans 2:17. They spent hundreds of years seeing themselves as morally superior to all other nations. If the Greeks were without excuse (Romans 1:20), then surely God chosen people cannot be excused.
God judgment is impartial (Acts 10:34-35; James 3:17). His judgments are according to truth and not according to who is acting (Isaiah 1:11-17; Isaiah 65:2-6). He condemns the acts list Romans 1. But though we agree with God’s judgment, it doesn’t mean our own sins are overlooked. Sin is sin, no matter who commits it.
1. Were the Jews wrong for condemning the sins of the Greeks?
God wants to save (Romans 2:4)
The Jews had convinced themselves that because God had not destroyed them; therefore, they were not that bad (Ecclesiastes 8:11; Hosea 12:8; Luke 13:1-5; II Peter 3:3-4). They misunderstood God’s mercy as acceptance instead of an opportunity to repent (Psalms 50:21). It is a part of God’s justice to give people time to change (Exodus 34:6; Isaiah 30:18).
God does not set out to destroy the sinner but to rescue him (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; II Peter 3:9, 15).
Everyone will be judged by what he does (Romans 2:5-11)
If God desires the salvation of everyone and actively leads people to change, then why are so many people lost? The answer cannot be a failing with God, so the failing must be seen in man ( James 5:3; II Peter 3:7). People are facing the wrath of God because they are stubborn or insensible to God’s effort and refuse to change (Acts 19:9; I Thessalonians 1:10; Ephesians 5:6; John 3:36).
This anger of God is not seen immediately. It is a part of God’s righteousness to give people time to change. But there will be a day when God’s wrath and the righteousness of his judgment will be revealed (II Thessalonians 1:6). This is not an ongoing judgment, a single moment in time. Nor is the outcome for each individual foreordained, else there would be no need for judgment.
What is being judged are the deeds a person does in this life (Job 34:11; Psalms 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19; Galatians 6:7-8). This statement is in flat contradiction that a person is saved by faith alone (James 2:14,17). Jesus, too, stated this fact (Matthew 16:27). Nor is the concept unique to Romans (I Corinthians 3:8; II Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 2:23; 22:12). The judgment will be righteous because it is applied to each person alike – no exceptions are given.
Those who with patient endurance while doing good seek for glory, honor, and eternal life will gain eternal life (Matthew 10:22; Hebrews 10:36-39; Revelation 2:10). People don’t stumble into heaven but actively seek it (Luke 8:15). It isn’t a hit-and-miss effort but continual. This is not to say that they earned eternal life. God’s judgment will be according to their deed, not in payment for their deeds (Luke 17:10; Titus 3:5; Matthew 7:21, 24-27; Romans 2:13; James 1:21-25).
However, indignation and wrath awaits those who put themselves first, quarrelsome, or rebellious and prefer to follow sin over righteousness. One of God’s complaints regarding Israel was their stubborn rebelliousness (Deuteronomy 9:7; 31:27; Isaiah 1:2; 30:9; 65:2; Jeremiah 5:23; Ezekiel 2:3-5). Again Paul hints that God is not going to make exceptions for the Jews (Jeremiah 9:13). Once again, the application of God’s standard is even-handed (II Thessalonians 1:8).
Paul then repeats his point to emphasize that God’s judgment is fair and equitable. Every one who does evil will receive tribulation and anguish (Psalms 7:11; Proverbs 14:32). This should eliminate the idea that the wicked are annihilated since there cannot be tribulation and anguish on someone who does not exist (Mark 9:43-48). By saying “every soul,” Paul is emphasizing that this is a spiritual punishment, not a physical one. Rather than finding themselves excused, Paul warns the Jews they are first in line to face God’s judgment.
However, the opposite is also true. Glory, honor and peace awaits every one who does good (I Peter 1:7). The Jew has no advantage in this regard over the Gentile.
There is no partiality with God (Deuteronomy 10:17; II Chronicles 19:7; Job 34:19; Acts 10:34; Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:24: I Peter 1:17). To show partiality is to be unjust (Leviticus 19:15; Proverbs 24:23).
1. What is the difference between indignation and wrath?
How can God judge those who didn’t have the Law? (Romans 2:12-16)
God is impartial. The sinner is condemned whether he is without a law or under a law (Matthew 10:23: John 3:15). Those without a law die because they have no law to correct them. Those who have a law, but break it, are judged and condemn by that law.
Law in this section appears without an article, though many translations supply “the.” You can see this as a contrast between the Jews who had the Law of Moses and the Gentiles who had no written law to follow. Yet, the same arguments apply to any body of law given by God.
Having access to a law, does not benefit a person by itself. Law only benefits the person who actually obeys it (Leviticus 18:5; James 1:22-25; Luke 6:47-49; Matthew 7:21-23; I John 3:7). Those who obey the law are justified before God. What is still to be shown, however, is that people don’t keep the law, even when it is available to them (Galatians 3:11).
The question ought to then be: how can God justly condemn the Gentiles when they didn’t have a law to guide them? Paul argues that some aspects of law are instinctively built into humans. For example, it is universally seen as wrong to kill another person without justifiable reason, honesty is considered more noble than lying, and marriage between a man and a woman is to be respected. Different societies will make exceptions, but a basic understanding of right and wrong is present. Thus as soon as a person makes a moral judgment that is in agreement with God’s law, he shows sufficient understanding to be accountable. If someone says it is wrong to steal my food, then he understands stealing is wrong, and he condemns himself if he steals money from someone else.
While their knowledge of morality would not be complete, there would be enough there to judge their actions against what they understood, their understanding either excusing them or accusing them. This is why the Greeks felt guilty over some of their actions. Their conscience bothered them when they went against what they knew to be wrong.
Paul already showed that the Greeks had sufficient knowledge to know God existed. Therefore, they stood condemned for idolatry. Even adding just what a person instinctively knows, no Greek keep his understanding perfectly. All stood condemned before God.
Thus in the future day when God judges all men, each person will be judge according to what he had access to as measured by Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel (Acts 17:31; John 5:22, 27; Ecclesiastes 12:14; I Timothy 4:1). Nothing will be hidden from God (Matthew 10:26; I Corinthians 4:5). This verse does not mean everyone will be judged by Paul’s gospel. After all many lived before the gospel was written and Paul said people would be held accountable to what they knew (Romans 2:12). What Paul was saying is that his gospel showed that Jesus would judge the world.